Children Who Speak Two Languages at an Advantage
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A new study of bilingual and monolingual toddlers could be reason for parents to share this story in two languages. Research in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology has shown that children learning two languages perform better at certain problem-solving tasks than do their monolingual peers.
Cristina Crivello, a Ph.D. student at Concordia University in Montreal who led the study, said 1 1/2-year-old bilingual children have abilities that are beneficial for people at any age.
"It's these specific cognitive abilities, like selective attention and cognitive flexibility, where they have to focus on relevant information and ignore distracting information," she said.
Although there is no consensus yet on exactly how learning other languages improves the brain, Crivello suggested that switching between languages mirrors the process of switching between tasks.
Speaking another language also can improve children's chances of getting a job later in life, both at home and abroad. Bridget Yaden, a Pacific Northwest Council for Languages board member whose third-grader is enrolled in a dual-immersion language program, said her son will be able to bring another set of skills to potential employers. Those employers could be in any number of countries around the world.
"Just the general ability to learn a second language or a third language, he could really go anywhere and be open to the cultural practices and really kind of make his way," she said.
Young children immersed in other languages can more easily pick them up because their brains are more receptive to acquiring language. Yaden, a professor of Hispanic studies at Pacific Lutheran University who also teaches foreign languages, said she can see how fast her son is progressing compared with her college students.
"He's definitely leaps and bounds beyond where my college students, who may have had the same amount of time with the language, are," she said. "He's definitely progressed much more quickly."
Yaden, who is fluent in Spanish, added that she didn't study a foreign language until high school.
The study is online at sciencedirect.com.