Bilingualism-smarter kids

[et_pb_section fb_built=”1″ specialty=”on” _builder_version=”3.6″][et_pb_column type=”3_4″ specialty_columns=”3″ _builder_version=”3.0.47″ parallax=”off” parallax__hover=”off” parallax_method=”on” parallax_method__hover=”on”][et_pb_row_inner _builder_version=”3.0.47″][et_pb_column_inner type=”4_4″ saved_specialty_column_type=”3_4″ _builder_version=”3.0.47″ parallax=”off” parallax__hover=”off” parallax_method=”on” parallax_method__hover=”on”][et_pb_blurb image=”https://sandy.education/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/373076-PBSLYF-194.jpg” _builder_version=”3.17.2″]Designed by Freepik[/et_pb_blurb][et_pb_cta _builder_version=”3.16″ use_background_color=”off” background_layout=”light” saved_tabs=”all” button_text_size__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_text_size__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_text_size__hover_enabled=”off” button_text_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_text_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_text_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_border_width__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_border_width__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_border_width__hover_enabled=”off” button_border_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_border_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_border_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_border_radius__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_border_radius__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_border_radius__hover_enabled=”off” button_letter_spacing__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_letter_spacing__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_letter_spacing__hover_enabled=”off” button_bg_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_bg_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_bg_color__hover_enabled=”off”]

Bilingualism – anecdotal and empirical evidence of its benefits (as evidenced in daily life by my son )

Paul Hussey

June 6, 2018

It is a reasonable but of unsubstantiated claim that people, and most especially children, are somehow the beneficiaries of multiple positives associated with being bilingual. We all nod sagely at the premise, on the basis that it must be self-evident that there is nothing but upside associated with the skill of effortlessly switching between two languages. Hardly some parlour trick, who can avoid being deeply impressed when especially a child switches back and forth, seemingly unaware of the relative rarity of such capability.  Perhaps less so in Hong Kong given the multi-cultural heritage as well as the educational emphasis on English and Chinese, but for most Westerners, observing such a skill at such a young age still brings a high degree of amazement, accompanied by the whiff of envy. It is a bit like vitamins, eating kale or operas by Wagner; we sense that they are something good for us and worthwhile, it just seems too much effort to actually go ahead and do it ourselves.

Indeed, in a somewhat contrarian voice, there was a time when researchers, educators and policy makers long considered a second language to be an interference, cognitively speaking, that hindered a child’s academic and intellectual development. My wife and I made the decision early on, when our son was still a toddler, that we would raise him with 3 languages ( English with me, Cantonese with my wife, and Mandarin at school ). We watched anxiously as we progressed, to see whether he would mix up the languages, or in some way be confused or trip over himself. So we were gratified to understand much later, that not only has such a theory been debunked, but we are now able to see empirical evidence of the benefits, removing the vagueness that accompanied such views In a New York Times article titled “Why Bilinguals are smarter”, Y. Bhattacharjee purports that  scientists have begun to show that 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. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.

Referring back to the earlier naysayers, they were not wrong about the interference: there is ample evidence that in a bilingual’s brain both language systems are active even when he is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other. But this interference, researchers are finding out, isn’t so much a handicap as a blessing in disguise. It forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.So when our son is spoken to in multiple languages within seconds of each other, he is able to cognitively sort out the competing language demands and deal with them separately.

The collective evidence from a number of studies suggests that the bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks. These processes include ignoring distractions to stay focused, switching attention willfully from one thing to another and holding information in mind — like remembering a sequence of directions while driving. I notice, as i am sure many Hong Kong parents observe, our 11 year old can take a comment in Cantonese from my wife, and convey the response in English to me, as if he is worried i feel excluded. Is this executive function also something more, somehow a heightened ability to monitor the environment ? More on that in a minute.

I often wondered whether this is functional skill is the privilege of the young, a unique trait that slows and disappears once we reach adulthood. Yet i am now finding out that bilingualism effects also extend into the twilight years. Bhattacharjee in her article found research to validate  that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism — measured through a comparative evaluation of proficiency in each language — were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease: the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset.

Nobody ever doubted the power of language. But who would have imagined that the words we hear and the sentences we speak might be leaving such a deep imprint, affecting both the extent of our behaviors and range of our lifespan ?

Referring back to our son’s emotional awareness of trying to include me, there was a very timely article by Katherine Kirzler ( also in the New York Times ), who wrote about multilingual exposure improves not only children’s cognitive skills but also their social abilities (“The Superior Social Skills of Bilinguals”). The long and the short of it is, that research she conducted for the Developmental Science Journal, discovered that even 18 month old babies who were multilingual ( or atl least constantly exposed to such an environment ) understood the importance of adopting another’s perspective for communication: In essence, the toddler understood the social context of its circumstances, suggesting an ability to empathize ( in effect, display E.Q. ). So to link this back to my own household, my son;s attempt at inclusion matches Kirtzler’s experiment to validate heightened social awareness.

Multilingual exposure, it seems, facilitates the basic skills of interpersonal understanding. Of course, becoming fully bilingual or multilingual is not always easy or possible for everyone. But the social advantage appears to emerge from merely being raised in an environment in which multiple languages are experienced, not from being bilingual per se. This is potentially good news for parents who are not bilingual themselves, yet who want their children to enjoy some of the benefits of multilingualism.

So it appears that research is validating what was seen as conventional wisdom. Apart from the obvious benefits of installing self-confidence and widening the minds of our children when they master a new language, aspects of empathy and E.Q. cleary seem to come into play. Having spent a life studying languages, I have never met anyone who has learnt a language fluently in isolation from the cultural roots of the country in question. To know a language, means to know, really know a new people, a culture and a way of life. And like travelling itself, the greatest journey we take via learning a new language, is the one of self-discovery along the way.

Reference materials

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-benefits-of-bilingualism.html
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/13/opinion/sunday/the-superior-social-skills-of-bilinguals.html

[/et_pb_cta][/et_pb_column_inner][/et_pb_row_inner][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_4″ _builder_version=”3.0.47″ parallax=”off” parallax__hover=”off” parallax_method=”on” parallax_method__hover=”on”][et_pb_search exclude_pages=”off” exclude_posts=”off” disabled_on=”on|on|” _builder_version=”3.16″ button_text_size__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_text_size__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_text_size__hover_enabled=”off” button_text_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_text_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_text_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_border_width__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_border_width__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_border_width__hover_enabled=”off” button_border_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_border_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_border_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_border_radius__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_border_radius__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_border_radius__hover_enabled=”off” button_letter_spacing__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_letter_spacing__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_letter_spacing__hover_enabled=”off” button_bg_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_bg_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_bg_color__hover_enabled=”off”] 
[/et_pb_search][et_pb_post_slider posts_number=”5″ include_categories=”1406,1388″ bg_overlay_color=”rgba(0,0,0,0.41)” use_text_overlay=”off” disabled_on=”on|on|” _builder_version=”3.17.2″ body_text_color=”#ffffff” meta_text_color=”#ffffff” background_color=”#ffffff” button_text_size__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_text_size__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_text_size__hover_enabled=”off” button_text_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_text_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_text_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_border_width__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_border_width__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_border_width__hover_enabled=”off” button_border_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_border_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_border_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_border_radius__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_border_radius__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_border_radius__hover_enabled=”off” button_letter_spacing__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_letter_spacing__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_letter_spacing__hover_enabled=”off” button_bg_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_one_bg_color__hover_enabled=”off” button_two_bg_color__hover_enabled=”off”] 
[/et_pb_post_slider][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_section]

Published by

Sandy Sinn-Hussey

Motherhood has been a long journey for me. Being a single mother for twelve years, I have learned the importance of mother and child's relationship. Raising children is a lifelong career and require patience, perseverance and love.