The idea of learning more than one language may confuse young children is a myth. On the contrary, recent studies show learning a second language to have a significant impact on children’s brain development, as well as their social and emotional growth. With more than 6000 languages to choose from, let’s explore how learning languages can change and enhance the way your little one experiences the world.
Enhance cultural competence
Children who are exposed to multilingual environments are particularly skilled at understanding the context that surrounds them. They have to constantly think about who speaks which language to whom, meaning of the actual content, and when and where each language is spoken. As a result they develop a high level of ‘practical intelligence’. This refers to their ability to grasp unsaid information from their surroundings such as gestures and social cues.
More importantly, learning languages involves not only studying new vocabulary but also ways of thinking and behaving. Inevitably, this helps children to see the world from different perspectives. In fact studies show it to shape our basic senses, emotions, visual perceptions and even how we perceive time. All in all learning languages make children more empathetic, appreciate diversity and culturally competent.
Fuel creativity and innovation
We often forget how the way we think is strongly linked with the language we speak. The ideas we develop are shaped and also constrained by our ability to communicate them. Therefore, taking up a new language helps children to break routine and understand the limitation of their existing language. This enables them to adapt new ways of thinking, which knowing just one language didn’t allow. Thus, children who learn languages are more creative, innovative and entrepreneurial, which also directly impacts their future career prospects.
Develop superior brain function
Learning and speaking a second language during early childhood has a significant and long-term impact on brain development. It particularly enhances the ‘cognitive ability’ of children. Having better cognitive control enables them to focus, plan and multitask. Naturally children with higher cognitive control perform better in school, social insertions and future jobs.
Learning languages have also proven to offset neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Moreover, a research published by the University of Helsinki found in the unlikely event of a brain injury, those who have learned a second language at an early age to recover better. Furthermore, according to the same study bilingual children are better able to differentiate sounds and understand what is being said even in a loud environment.
Increase tolerance of ambiguity
‘Tolerance of ambiguity’ is a person’s ability to find unfamiliar situations exciting rather than frightening. When a child learns a new language she is exposed to unknown words. As a result she also develops the ability to maintain the flow of conversation even when unfamiliar words are involved. Thus, learning languages increase tolerance of ambiguity, together with children’s ability to manage anxiety and face uncertainty. Moreover, this makes them more optimistic and unafraid to take calculated risks.
Help shape and define identity
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes every child’s right to learn, as well as learn in, her mother tongue. Language plays a significant role in shaping our individual and social identities. It gives us a sense of belonging, improves self-esteem, and helps us feel valued and heard.
Moreover, particularly for indigenous and minority communities ‘language maintenance’ is directly linked to their future existence. Thus, encouraging children to learn languages within increasingly multicultural societies enables them to, take-on and share the responsibility of language maintenance, create a dialog between people from different cultures, and give them a head start in life.
- A neuroscientist explains why being bilingual makes your brain more robust by Alex Gray
- How learning a new language improves tolerance by Amy Thompson, Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics, University of South Florida
- New Language, New Design by Otso Hannula, Nitor’s resident Service Designer, researcher and a Lean-Agile coach
- Study: Learning a second language at early age could provide long-term benefits by Yle
- This is why babies are so much better than you at learning languages by Deborah Bach, Writer for Futurity
- This is why the language you speak can change how you perceive time by Anne Rothwell, Press Officer, Lancaster University
- Why teachers shouldn’t be afraid of other languages being spoken in the classroom by Clare Cunningham, Senior Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics, York St John University
Discover inspiring resources and digital tools based on the Fun learning approach, to support the bilingual education of your child.