Learning languages is a treasure. This is a sentence that we know it holds some truth, however we can’t claim for sure that our bilingual kids are smarter than the kids who learn one language.
Well, a study has shown that learning languages from a very early stage is extremely important in the brain development of the child, especially in the areas responsible for decision-making and problem-solving.
Moreover, as soon as the child gets to 11 months you can start to expose him/her to another language and begin with developing his/her brain and encourage brain activities.
According to the researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, bilingual children tend to be more successful and smarter compared to the children who acquire just one language.
This was concluded after a thorough testing of a group of only English-speaking children and a group of children with both English and Spanish-speaking families. Both groups were at the age of 11 months.
Acquiring a second language at the earliest stage
The findings from the study indicate that bilingual babies encourage brain activity and are getting practice related to the executive function.
According to the studies, bilingualism is effective as early as they start producing their first words or about 11 months old.
So, babies raised in bilingual households are actually encouraged to activate their brain which will later on reflect on the intelligence and performance in life. So, there is more to just a language development, bilingual children shape cognitive development.
Which are the benefits?
Children exposed to two languages at a very early age are prone to learning more new language sounds compared to children who learn only one language.
In this way, bilingual kids adapt their brains and enlarge their perception to new sounds, whereas monolingual kids are unable to discriminate sounds and therefore their perception for new sounds is much narrower than their bilingual peers.
How did the study establish this?
In order to establish and strengthen their points, the researchers at the University of Washington used a magnetoencephalography (MEG), meant for measuring the magnetic changes produced by the active nerve cells.
This method displays a clear picture of the location and the timing of each activity in the brain and compares the activation pattern in both monolingual and bilingual babies.
The experiment was conducted on 16 babies, 8 who were only from English-speaking families and 8 from both Spanish and English-speaking families.
Both groups underwent through the experiment, involving putting on a MEG scanner (resembling a helmet) and both groups listened to an 18-minute stream of speech sounds, which was rich in sounds shared by both languages and sounds specific for every language individually (English and Spanish). The experimental set-up is available here.
The conclusion from this experiment was that bilingual kids respond better to speech sounds, unlike their monolingual peers.
This is probably due to need of bilinguals to switch from language to language and hence the improved executive function skills. So, bilingual kids are both responding to sounds of both languages or they are learning the sounds of both languages.
Bilingual children are also acquiring English language as their monolingual peers, so both groups are learning English language at the same pace.
The child will acquire as many languages as you present him with, so every kid is capable of managing both languages at the same time.
However, this is the case if the baby is acquiring both languages from the earliest stage, meaning that every child can be capable of learning various languages, if done as soon as they are capable of producing or pronouncing their first words.
Can every child be bilingual?
In some cases, even if the parents are not bilingual, the babies are extremely sensitive to speech sound and can be raised bilingual.
The best way for a baby to acquire the language is to be exposed to that language. So, you don’t teach the child to learn the language, but instead you expose him from a very early age to different types of people of groups where the language is spoken.
So, if you think that you’ll only confuse your baby, think twice! Babies can differentiate speech sounds, tone of speech and even differentiate women and men-speaking.
In cases where both parents speak different languages, then it’s best if mommy speaks her language to the baby and daddy speaks his language to the baby, by doing so the baby will naturally learn to distinguish and acquire both languages.However, if you’re not a bilingual family, then you need to bear in mind that the more you expose your child to different types of communities, where different languages are spoken, the better are the chances that your baby will acquire both languages equally.
Kids also need to understand that they need to learn the language from different people with different languages addressing them. In this way, children will naturally find their way to understand and acquire different languages.
Raising a bilingual child can surely be a challenge, however this is nothing compared to the benefits that bilingual children have.
So, you may want to consider exposing your child to as many languages as you want from the earliest age and get the best results firsthand.
1. University of Washington – Bilingual baby brains show increased activity in executive function regions – http://www.washington.edu