1. Exposure to More than One Language Builds a More Powerful Brain
The key is capitalizing on the sheer genius of a young child's mind.
During the first six months of life, infants babble using 70 sounds which make up all the languages of the world.
Patricia Kuhl, Professor of brain and speech at the University of Washington studies the critical period during which babies easily acquire language skills. The first critical period is 6 to 8 months and 10 to 12 months and is referred to as the celestial openness of the child’s mind. Babies learn one language over another by listening to humans around them and “taking statistics” on the sounds they need to know. Only talking, touching, reading, singing and movement stimulates the brain. Babies can discriminate all the sounds of all the languages of the world. Children 3 years and under are capable of absorbing vast amounts of knowledge before the steady decline in brain processing occurs at 7 years of age.
2. Foreign Language Acquisition Supports Future Academic Success
Longitudinal studies by Harvard University, confirms that learning additional languages increases critical thinking skills, creativity and flexibility of the mind in young children. Children who learn a foreign language outscore their non-foreign language learning peers in verbal and math standardized tests, indicating that learning additional languages is a cognitive activity not just a linguistic one.
There is significant correlation between foreign language study and higher academic achievement, including higher scores on SAT and ACT tests, memory and problem solving. Language learning boosts cognitive, memory and listening skills.
Studies at the Cornell Language Acquisition Lab (CLAL) affirm that learning a foreign language does not result in confusion or language delay. In contrast, children who learn a second language can maintain attention despite outside stimuli better than children who know only one language.
The advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people and understanding of cultures. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter.
3. Importance of Maintaining Family Heritage & Cultural Continuity
Knowing the language of one's heritage is an important and essential component of children's cultural identity and sense of belonging. Children can assume active roles in learning important cultural-historical concepts.
Studies on brain development indicate that early exposure to more than one language builds a more powerful brain, with faster and more efficient synaptic connections.
Research shows that all newborns possess the ability to distinguish between the different sounds of all the world’s languages. Newborns can hear the difference between the French “r”, the distinctive open palate sound of Italian vowels and the unique expressions of Mandarin. In contrast, adults who speak only English cannot hear these differences. At 10 months important changes take place: babies grow used to the sounds of the language spoken in their surrounding environment and their ability to distinguish between different foreign sounds lessens gradually.
Exposing children to foreign languages is the best strategy to maximize their future linguistic abilities and to take advantage of the many cognitive, social and academic benefits of multilingualism.
Learning a second language helps the first language. Bilingual infants and children are acutely aware of different languages and diverse cultures, unmatched by their monolingual peers. Bilingual children can easily distinguish between familiar speakers, identify which language they are speaking, and respond in the same language.
Resources on Early Language Education
"Speaking two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world. The advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter."
-Why Bilinguals Are Smarter
"Bilingual children develop crucial skills in addition to their double vocabularies, learning different ways to solve logic problems or to handle multitasking, skills that are often considered part of the brain’s so-called executive function."
- Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Sort Out Language
"When I was a baby, my mother gazed down at me in her hospital bed and did something that would permanently change the way my brain developed. Something that would make me better at learning, multi-tasking and solving problems. Her trick? She started speaking to me in French."
-Educators once opposed raising bilingual children.
Experts now say it’s beneficial
Bilingual kids are likely to be highly creative. Children who learn a second language excel at coming up with multiple uses for an object or multiple ways to solve a given problem. This translates to more refined, scientific, or creative problem-solving abilities later on.
“Knowing more than one language helps children understand and embrace diversity in their community and prepares them to communicate with a much broader range of people they may encounter. Easy bilingual skills are likely to make them more employable, tolerant, interesting adults.”
-Raising a Bilingual Child Is Challenging But Worth It
"Bilingual children manage not only to learn two sets of words at one time and keep these two systems separate, they even keep the two sound systems separate."
-Bilingual Children Have a Two-Tracked Mind
"The earlier they're introduced to a second language, the easier it will be for them to pick it up. When these children get to school age, they tend to have superior reading and writing skills in both languages, as well as better analytical and academic skills"
-A Guide to Raising Bilingual Children
"Knowing the language of one's parents is an important and essential component of children's cultural identity and sense of belonging."
TEDTalks: Patricia Kuhl–The Linguistic Genius of Babies. TED, 2011.
Ford, Catherine. "Children Should Start Learning Languages at Age Three." Telegraph. N.p., 2014.
Lang, Susan. "Learning a Second Language Is Good Childhood Mind Medicine, Studies Find." Cornell News. N.p., 2009.