Speaking more than one language has a range of wonderful benefits. As well as being incredibly practical in today’s world, studies have shown that bilingualism has a profoundly positive effect on brain function, as it aids memory, mental flexibility and creativity. The study of languages is also considered to help shield the brain against age-related diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Whilst there are over 250 languages spoken in Australia, it’s a nation that is not as linguistically diverse as it seems. Today, less and less children and young people are learning a second language in school, due to the convenience of English being the primary spoken language, both countrywide and worldwide. This is problematic for cultural reasons, but it’s also worrying because it means that young people are missing out on the vast benefits and opportunities that bilingualism can afford them.
At Endeavour Early Education we are passionate about giving children the tools that will propel them into incredible realms of ability and opportunity in their futures, and this includes the introduction to a second language. If you’re unsure about why your child should bother learning a second language at an early age, we have 10 great reasons that will change your mind.
The benefits of learning a second language as a child
1. It boosts brain function
Learning a second (or third) language has immense cognitive benefits for children. The act of jumping between different languages requires “mental gymnastics” which stimulates and strengthens the brain to make it quicker, sharper and more focused. Therefore, as studies have shown, bilinguals have “better” brains than monolinguals: improved memory, improved concentration, better ability to multitask, quicker at retaining new information and learning new skills, and better at taking on tasks that are both related and unrelated to language.
2. It encourages creativity
Bilingualism and creativity may not often be considered synonymous, but they go hand in hand. A study uncovered a link between the two by subjecting bilinguals and monolinguals to the ultimate creativity test. The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) measures “divergent thinking” in participants: fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration, which together indicate a high level of creativity.
“Divergent thinking” is the capacity at which your brain can offer solutions to a variety of problems. One common TTCT test is to list as many Xs in category Z as possible within a particular time frame. The more the participant can come up with, the better they are at “divergent thinking”.
The results from the test found that bilinguals majorly outperformed monolinguals, and this could be due to a number of reasons. One reason could be that bilinguals have a better attention span, are less easily distracted, can switch between tasks at speed and can better retain new information. Thus, the sharper mind is, the easier it is to “think divergently” and the more creatively the brain processes things.
Another reason could be that an extensive understanding of language, world perspectives, and foreign cultures and customs results in better fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration (i.e. creativity).
3. It raises I.Q.
Exposure to a second language is believed to accelerate a child’s overall academic and intellectual development. It has been found to improve vocabulary, reading and writing (not related to the language in question) and even mathematical skills.
Fine tuning these core skills significantly raises a child’s I.Q., and this results in better overall performance in standardised tests and better grades in core subjects (maths and literacy).
4. It improves native language
In the past it was assumed that introducing a young child to more than one language would be “overloading” him or her with too much information. It was believed that this would confuse a child and hinder their ability to retain and master their native tongue. However, this assumption has since been debunked.
It is now widely believed that exposure to a second language at a young age can help to enhance a child’s first language, not hinder it. This is because learning a foreign language requires an advanced linguistic understanding (etymology, sentence structure and grammar, as well as concepts and metaphors), which encourages a well-rounded and accomplished fluency of the native language.
It broadens career prospects
One of the biggest reasons why many so people learn a second language is to improve their job opportunities. In a world that speaks roughly 6,500 languages, there is incredible scope for careers that require fluency in languages other than English. Such roles include education, tourism, translation, publishing, national security, healthcare, social work and more.
The demand for fluency is higher in some languages than others. If an individual speaks a language that is considered “rare”, their expertise will be of incredible value all over the world, and a job will come with a large salary attached. (Not to mention, competition will be slim.)
Multilingualism can have a positive effect on job salaries even when secondary language(s) is not a fundamental demand of the role in question. Simply having the skill to fluently speak a second or third language instantly makes a person more valuable to any company, and the salaries offered to them will reflect that.
6. It enables a connection with more people
An obvious reason why learning a second language at an early age is so valuable is that it can open up a meaningful dialogue with millions of other people around the world – people who would perhaps otherwise be inaccessible.
Sure, a enormous 20% of the entire world speaks English (that’s roughly 1.5 billion people), but stopping with English limits access to the other 80% of people on the planet, which in turn closes the door on many opportunities, friendships and cultural understandings.
7. It offers a broader world view
Language opens doors to the world and is the most authentic way to explore the many cultures that make up its rich tapestry. Language and culture are so intertwined – each reveals so much about the other – so immersing yourself in a language is a way delve deep into new histories and stories.
If you want your child to be well-rounded, have a positive understanding of other cultures, enjoy travelling and experience things outside of their comfort zone, you should encourage multilingualism.
8. It increases social skills
Learning foreign languages can help to increase a person’s ability to socialise. This is because different languages require different expression and feeling. Communicating with a foreign individual in their native tongue (not English) is a far more accurate representation of that individual’s personality and character.
Language also increases empathy, especially in children, as they must learn to carefully consider another’s language preferences, turns of phrase and how to adapt language to suit a time and place.
9. It helps to train the musical ear
Another, maybe surprising, benefit of learning a second language is that it can improve musical ability. Music and speech have long been associated, but interestingly musical training has been found to be advanced by certain languages – Cantonese and Mandarin, in particular. This is because the pitch, inflections and sounds of spoken Chinese words can help the brain to identify notes and pitches created by musical instruments.
10. Childhood is the best time to learn a new language
There is no age too young to start learning a second language.
In fact, the earlier, the better.We’ve all heard a child’s mind being likened to a “sponge”, and this is an expression that is grounded in scientific fact – children’s ability to learn a second language is astonishing.
According to a Study there is a “critical period” in a child’s life where language acquisition is most achievable, and this is believed to be between 8 and 12 months. Younger brains are better at retaining new information, but this ease and ability begins to waver after 8-years-old, and begins to decline post-puberty.
Better yet, if your child has one foreign language under their belt (as well as their native tongue) it will be much easier for them to master other languages. Therefore, if you want your child to be multilingual, they will have the best chance of success if they start in early education.
Learning a second language at an early age is not a compulsory component in school curriculum, but the benefits are hard to ignore. At Endeavour Early Education we are committed to giving your child the best start in life, and we believe that this begins with exposure to a second language. And if you need one more reason to get onboard with bilingualism, here’s one – it’s really fun to learn another language!
Find out more about our Whole Child Program, which is built on five key pillars of learning: language, nutrition, art, music and school readiness.