Largely thanks to the position of English as the world’s second language, here in the UK we can sometimes become a little complacent about learning second languages. After all, if everywhere you go the chances of someone speaking English is fairly high, there is rarely that much of an incentive.
However, by overlooking the need for further language skills, we could be missing out on the potential benefits of language skills. This is especially true of our children, as it has been proved that learning a second language in developing years has many long-term cognitive benefits.
Of course, there are the obvious practical benefits of learning a second language in terms of being able to communicate in other countries. Being able to speak a global language like French, Spanish, German or, increasingly, Mandarin has obvious benefits when travelling.
However, the real positives of language study are not just in the practical applications. And this is where many parents fall down, believing the practical benefits of more conventional study to have more long-term advantages. So we often see school children dropping language study for subjects like mathematics, sciences and economics.
Here is a quick run down of the potential benefits for your children learning a new language from an early age.
Improve brain functionality
Studies have shown that bilingual children score better on standardised tests and have improved cognitive, negotiating and communication scores. These improvements translate into other subjects including maths, reading and vocabulary.
Develop multitasking skills
Children who are used to switching between two languages in terms of speech and writing often have more developed multitasking skills. This ‘juggling’ of language prepares the brain for switching easily between other tasks it encounters. For example, research found that bilingual people made fewer errors in their driving.
Later life benefits
Bilingual people are less likely to exhibit signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s, and if they do, it happens later in life. For monolingual people the average age for first signs is 71.4, for bilingual people it is 75.5.
Better perception and memory
If the brain were a muscle then it would become fitter and stronger with exercise. Learning the rules and information associated with a new language helps to strengthen and work out the brain, making it more efficient and better at retaining and understanding information. A study by the University of Pompeu Fabra, Spain, showed that bilingual people were more observant of their surroundings.
Learning the structure, grammar and spelling of other languages also helped students to improve their grasp of English. All too often monolingual people take their own language for granted, as they have no frame of reference for learning it, other than experience. Speakers of multiple languages have a wider vocabulary and a better ear for understanding and listening in English.
So, as you can see, there is a wealth of areas where speaking two or more languages can improve your brain. It has obvious and substantial long-term benefits that have more life significance than a good grade in any particular subject in school. Language skills have a more holistic impact on the brains of children and help them to learn better in many other areas. Plus, they’ll be able to order all the food when you’re on holiday. Everybody wins.
Nord Anglia is an international Education provider with a branch right here in Shanghai. Click here for more information on what it's like to work at an international school like Nord Anglia. Some of our new teaching job openings also include some prestigious international schools. Check them out!
written by our friends at Nord Anglia Education
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