Benefits of babies, children (and adults) being bilingual
Celebrity mums like Cheryl Cole and Sam Faiers have had parents divided over whether they should be giving their young babies Spanish lessons. Well, there are countless reasons why introducing babies to a second language is such a great idea!
Babies and toddlers understand instinctively that language is something to explore, to play around with and to enjoy - this is such a joy to watch as a parent. Decades of research suggest that introducing babies to a second language before they are 6 months old helps to shape the brain at its most flexible stage. As a child gets older, the brain's ability to restructure itself diminishes, and by a very early age (between 6 and 9 years old) the window has virtually closed. This is why young children the world over can learn one or more languages almost effortlessly, while older children and adults struggle to become fluent or develop good accents.
1. Natural-sounding, native-like accent - babies are constantly absorbing the sounds they hear. The more sounds they are exposed to before they can actually talk, the easier they will find it to mimic the native accents of other languages. This also enables them to learn additional languages more easily as they get older
2. Enhanced speech development - while some parents worry that starting their toddler on a second language will interfere with developing English skills, the opposite is actually true. Children can differentiate between two languages within the first weeks of life. "Learning another language actually enhances a child's overall speech development," says Roberta Michnick Golinkoff Ph.D., author of How Babies Talk
3. Greater Confidence - imagine the feeling of accomplishment that comes with the first time they are understood on holiday!
4. Can ward off dementia and extend life (people who suffer brain damage can sometimes draw from second language skills which occupy a different region of the brain)
5. Increased brain power - babies and young children grow new brain cells to process the particular languages they are exposed to. Bilingual children tend to have significantly larger density of grey matter, which is the part of the brain involved in muscle control, sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, and speech. Those who have been exposed to a second language from an early age have the most grey matter of all. This extra brain power has been shown to give these children an advantage later in life in such areas as maths, reading and science. Other advantages include heightened creativity, improved communication skills, wider vocabulary, enhanced memory and focus and multi-tasking skills
6. Competitive edge in future markets and the global marketplace - universities now place an increasingly high value on knowledge of more than one language, and a second language is becoming a highly sought-after asset on graduate CVs
7. Broader horizons - studies show that children that are exposed to other languages have a heightened curiosity for other cultures and hence a greater appreciation and sensitivity towards others. This often leads them to naturally want to broaden their own horizons