In our increasingly globalised world, being bilingual can be extremely helpful in communicating with people of different cultures. Here at Piptree Early Learning, we believe that teaching your child a second language is also good for their mind. Contrary to popular belief, learning a second language does not cause language confusion, language delay, or cognitive deficits. Studies done at the Cornell Language Acquisition Lab showed that children who learn a second language can maintain attention despite outside stimuli better than children who only know one language.1
According to Barbara Lust, a developmental psychologist and linguistic expert, this ability is “responsible for selective and conscious cognitive processes to achieve goals in the face of distraction and plays a key role in academic readiness and success in school settings.” These abilities can also contribute to a child’s future academic success.
Young children are especially well-equipped with the capability to accomplish the complex task of language learning. Here are some benefits that your child will gain from learning a second language:
Improve cognitive development
Learning another language helps develop essential areas of your child’s brain.
Memory and concentration skills
Learning another language can strengthen your child’s memory for sequences and their ability to concentrate and build connections. The parts of the brain used for memory, reasoning, and planning are much larger for bilinguals compared to monolinguals.2 Studies have also shown that being bilingual can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Develop multi-tasking capabilities
A study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that children who grow up speaking two languages are better at switching between tasks than monolingual children. This shows their ability to multi-task. Bilinguals have 2 sets of language rules in their minds and their brain is trained to switch back and forth depending on the situation.3
Bilingual speakers develop mental flexibility
When switching between languages all the time, it strengthens your child’s mental muscles and enhances their executive function, i.e. it improves their working memory, allows for flexible thinking, and develops their self-control. Bilinguals are able to control the parallel activity of both languages and select the intended language subconsciously.
Introducing sign language in your child’s early age can also be extremely beneficial to their cognitive and physical development. It encourages communication for children who are not yet speaking and can increase memory retention and motion processing. It can also increase mental flexibility. The intricate linguistic elements to sign language can also help develop your child’s gross motor function. You can read more about introducing Australian Sign Language (Auslan) to your young child here.
Improve academic performance
With enhanced executive function, your child will be able to concentrate and do better at school!
Enhance English literacy skills
Learning another language is more than just memorising a list of words. It forces your child to be conscious of the rules of English. Children generally acquire their first language intuitively without any formal training, on the other hand, they might learn a second language in a formal classroom setting. As a result, your child will learn to compare and contrast the two systems — different language elements such as vocabulary, grammar, conjugation, etc. Your child will have an insight into how English works, which accelerates their reading and writing skills. Learning a new language also makes them a better listener as they are used to having to interpret meanings and nuances.4
Great academic results
With higher cognitive skills, studies have shown that multilingual students do better on standardised exams in maths, reading comprehension, and vocabulary. Language learning boosts your child’s ability to problem-solve, a skill that is essential across the board.4
Develop understanding and respect for other cultures
Language is part of culture. Learning another language will spark your child’s curiosity for other cultures!2 Opening up to another culture will allow your child to be more flexible, respectful, and appreciative of other people’s opinions and lifestyle. They will have the advantage of seeing the world through different perspectives and will enhance their ability to communicate in a connected. Your child will grow up to be a compassionate, empathetic, and respectful person.4 You can read more about teaching your child the importance of diversity and inclusiveness here.
How to teach your child another language at home5
Using child-centred education will help your child learn and acquire the new language quicker!
If you’re a parent in a bilingual or multilingual household:
- Teach through repetition
Young children learn through repetition and active engagement with the other language. You can do an activity in English, then do the same activity in the other language. It’s best to use a child-centred approach here! When your child is engaged in an activity they enjoy, make use of this opportunity to turn it into an educational moment. For example, if you’re doing arts and craft, you can go through the process in English, then do it again in the target language. It helps to speak the second language consistently at home, so they are exposed to the language and its system. Talk about your daily routines and activities in the second language as you do them!
- Use big gestures and physical demonstrations
Pairing nonverbal communication with verbal vocabulary cues can help your child comprehend language. Children can associate your physical expression with vocabulary. It makes it easier for them to understand and remember those terms!
- Create a positive learning environment
Second-language learners do better when they are supported and encouraged to engage in social interactions. Asking open-ended questions in the second language will prompt them to use and practice speaking the language. It is important to note that your child might mix up words and word orders when they are just starting, but children learn and adapt quickly so they’ll figure it out in no time! Just keep encouraging them to use the second language and they’ll master it eventually!
If you’re a parent in a monolingual home:
- Have your child spend time with a native speaker
Studies have shown that immersive language learning is the most effective way to master a second language. Children are able to pay attention to social cues from a live person that can help them comprehend and better understand what is being said. If you have a bilingual family, friend, neighbour, or caretaker, let them spend some time with your child speaking only in their native language. You can set up playdates or excursions with them where they only speak in your child’s target language, creating an immersive experience.
- Find media in the target language
Using audio or media formats can be less-effective compared to in-person interactions but any amount of exposure to the target language is always helpful. Let them watch age-appropriate shows in the target language, find music that both you and your child will love in the target language, and when they’re old enough to read fill your home with written words in the target language.
- Use child-friendly language-learning sites
There are websites and apps created for young children to learn a second language. They provide popular children stories like Goldilocks and the Three Bears or Three Little Pigs in a different language. Here is a list of some of the best apps that can help your child in their language learning journey through their preschool and schooling years.
- Learn the language together
If you are interested in learning a second language, you can make this a team effort! It’ll also be a good bonding experience as you learn something new with your child. You can learn a second language through an online language learning platform and teach your child what you learn! It’ll be good practice for you as you get to practice what you have learnt while teaching your child! Duolingo and Rosetta Stone can be a good place to start. Here is a list of resources you can use to start learning Auslan!
Growing up to be a well-rounded individual
Learning a second language from a young age can not only help to put your child in a better position for their future, but also helps them to understand and see the world in different perspectives. Child-centred education helps not only with language learning but also helps in developing a better understanding of why it is important to appreciate other cultures. With higher cognitive skills, they learn to become a respectful and empathetic individual and are more likely to be successful in school! Being exposed to different languages and cultures can have a significant positive impact on your child’s life.
How do we cultivate language learning at Piptree?
As we know, Australia is a ‘melting pot’ of different cultures and ethnicities. This is part of what makes us special! Our Piptree centres are all located in areas that embrace diversity and multiculturalism, and as such we encourage our children to be curious about the different languages that they may hear their friends or educators using. For example, at Piptree Eight Mile Plains we love having such a diverse mix of families and educators! Our team of educators enjoy sharing aspects of their cultures’ with the children. Head over to our Facebook page to see one of our amazing educators reading the story of The 3 Little Pigs in her native Cantonese!
- Lang, S. Learning a Second Language is Good Childhood Mind Medicine, study finds. (Link)
- Victoria State Government. How languages can boost your child’s brain power. (Link)
- National Institutes of Health. Bilinguals Switch Tasks Faster than Monolinguals, NIH funded study shows. (Link)
- Eton Institute. Top 10 Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language. (Link)
- Korngold, Y. How to Incorporate a Foreign Language into Your Preschooler’s Life. (Link)