As an educator, I am asked all the time by parents “what can make my child smarter?” This is how I am going to answer this question from now on…have your child learn another language!
How does learning another language help a child “get smarter” you ask? This is what recent research reveals about bilingualism and dual language learning.
Current Research about Learning Two Languages:
- A child’s thinking and cognition is improved by learning another language.
- Children who know two languages are better problem-solvers!
- Their brain works differently.
- Knowledge of a second language affects how you read in your native tongue-sometimes faster.
- It alters grey matter – the area of the brain which processes information, just like exercising builds muscle.
- It improves skills in the native language.
- Regardless of race and socioeconomic status, children with dual languages, did better on standardized tests.
- Higher creativity in story-telling occurs.
- In terms of language-semantic development, they were ahead by 2-3 years.
- It exercises the brain, as it is a cognitivly-challenging task.
Old Myths about Dual language Learning:
(Keep in mind, these are beliefs that are not backed up by research. Some children did experience these obstacles, but some of those children also had prior learning/speech disorders in their native language)
- It confuses children.
- Learning another language takes brain power away from learning the native language.
- The native language worsens as a result.
- Test scores decrease.
Future Benefits of Knowing Two or more Language:
- The opportunity for getting a better job, which requires bilingualism.
- The chance to travel to other countries for that job!
- Improved tolerance and awareness of other cultures.
- Increases social skills with those of other culutures.
Isnt’ this all amazing! I am so excited to learn what this new research proves about bilingualism! I would love to hear your experiences with children learning two languages!
Excellent and helpful article.
I so want my kids to be smarter! Thank you for this piece. One thing I would like your opinion on is this: I feel that language education is geared towards “exposure” and not towards “fluency.” I’ve told people in Europe that in the US we study French every day for four years, and people are not fluent. The Europeans are shocked. Sure, we don’t have immersion, but 5 hours/week for four years is a *lot* of class time.
My question is, how do you think we could make our language students fluent? When they are fluent they can experience all the advantages your mention above that come from being truly bilingual.
I will use some of my personal experiences to answer your questions. In my opinion, using the language on a daily basis, in real life situations is the key towards fluency.
Example 1: I grew up in Spain, in grades 1 and 2 and had Spanish language classes 1 hour a day. Although I was on a Navy base around Americans, my family did go out in the city quite often. However, my parents never really encouraged us to speak with the natives in Spanish, because they communicated to us in English. As a result, I learned no Spanish, whatsoever. The reason: I was just exposed to the Spanish language and did not speak it or use it.
Example 2: When I was in 7th grade, I took a Spanish course. Our teacher spoke no English to us at all. He required us to communicate in Spanish. He used many pictures and videos to teach vocabulary. Each Friday, he simulated a Spanish setting. One week, he set up a restaurant-complete with menu’s! For our test grade, we were required to take turns ordering our food, using our knowledge of the new vocabulary words. I will never forget that experience. Another week, we went on a field trip to a real restaurant, where we were required to order again, in Spanish. I think this immersion, exposure and language usage is what helped me master Spanish a little more. Granted, I am not fluent in Spanish, I am able to order food!
Example 3: I moved to Texas and worked in schools, for the past 10 years where at least 50% of the students came from hispanic families. Most of the parents did not know English, so I had to chalk up some of my Spanish vocabulary and simple sentences. During “meet the teacher” nights, I used some of my Spanish to communicate with parents, however, my students took over and translated what I said in English, over to Spanish. As a result…I realized that I did not know and use Spanish as well as I had thought.
Example 4: I lived in Kazakhstan for 2 months and taught conversational English to University students. While out and about in the city, I was forced to learn how to ask for things such as buying food or finding the bathroom. Most people there knew very little English-therefore, I had to learn Russian and Kazakh in order to survive there! Why? I could not rely on my English to get me by.
Example 5: For 6 months, I lived and taught in Taipei, Taiwan. Most people here did not speak English. Again, if I wanted to survive, eat and be able to travel, I had to learn the Chinese language. It was very difficult, but I had tutor who helped me learn. It has been 10 years since I spoke chinese and now I do not remember that much.
Example 6: Currently, I live in Saudi Arabia. 90% of the people speak English. It is not necessary that I learn Arabic, however, most people here also know Arabic, so I am trying to learn it while I am immersed in it.
Example 7: My husband was born in Pakistan and educated in both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. 80% of the school day, he was taught in English-from non-native English speakers. When I met him in college, in the US, he was 90% fluent in English. I think his fluency was a result of being immersed in English for the majority of his school day. Keep in mind, when he went home at 3pm each day, he spoke his native language with his family and friends.
Example 8: While in college, my friends who were from China and Taiwan had much difficulty communicating in English. Why? They learned how to write English and revise it and read it, but they did not engage in English conversations in their home countries.
Example 9: I took one year of French when I was in college. For one semester, I studied French 3 hours a week. I was terrible at it. It was so hard and today, the only French that I can speak is saying “what is your name” and “my name is….”
Example 10: My husbands family all speak Urdu. For the past three month, they enjoyed their summer break staying with them. They learned some Urdu…how to say “hello” and “good-bye” and also how to ask and answer “how are you.” I think that they learned because they experienced authentic language usage.
By no means am I a language expert, but I have had many experiences as you see, with a handful of languages.
I think that exposing your students will not completely help with making them fluent. Unless, you immerse them in real language experiences, like field trips, etc… I hope that my experiences can help with answering your questions. As I am beginning to learn Arabic, I plan on writing a basic curriculum “Kindergarten-style” that is very simple. I plan to make it so that it could be adapted for any language. I think the key to your Somali program will be finding someone is fluent in English and Somali. Possibly pairing up a teacher an ESL teacher and a Somali speaker (not necessarily a teacher) will be the key.
If you have any further concerns or questions or need feedback, feel free to contact me. I am happy to help! -Andrea
Very nice blog! Thanks for sharing!
I’m agree ….we must learn foreign language to interact in the era of globalization