If you believe raising your child bilingually is a disadvantage based on the idea that they may not have as strong a grasp on the English language as children raised in a single-language home, think again. Research has shown not only does speaking multiple languages improve communication skills, but it also helps with the development of the brain.
However, this line of thought is a relatively new one. According to a piece from The Economist, bilingualism was seen as the culprit for lower IQ scores “among the children of non-English-speaking parents,” a century ago. That led to teachers encouraging those parents to speak with their children in the majority language only. But, thanks to research from the likes of Ellen Bialystok of York University in Toronto, that notion has been completely subverted. Bialystok found that “the constant mental exercise of switching languages regularly and always having to inhibit one,” give bilingual children a cognitive advantage. She also found that “bilinguals seem to have better executive function—the ability to plan and carry out complicated tasks.”
In her article for The New Yorker called “Is Bilingualism Really an Advantage?” Maria Konnikova echoes this sentiment, writing that “when it comes to qualities like sustained attention and switching between tasks effectively, bilinguals often come out ahead.” Another way in which bilingualism is advantageous to the brain is the way in which it helps in its aging, writes Konnikova. According to her, bilingual adults are more likely to stave off dementia than monolinguals are, a notion backed up by further research conducted by Bialystok.
For parents who are interested in helping their children become bilingual but who come from a monolingual background, an easy solution is to enroll their kids in programs or schools—like French immersion—that will give them the foundation they need to learn another language.
Do you have plans to raise bilingual kids?