I was pleased to attend a talk at a local Barnes & Noble by Dr. Ellen Bialystok, who was speaking about the cognitive benefits of children being bilingual. She is a Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology at York University in Canada. I have been following her work for a long time and have cited her research on bilingual children on our web site.
Dr. Bialytsok walked us through studies she did on groups of monolingual and bilingual kids, comparing their reading, writing and processing skills. Her studies showed that not only did the bilingual children have the same level of vocabulary and ability to read in English as the monolingual kids, but in addition there were many cognitive benefits to learning a second language. The main one is that it is a great workout for the front lobes of the brain, which are in charge of all of our “executive functions”. These functions include processing language, critical thinking and other intelligence related skills such as concentration and retention of information. She also shared evidence that showed that even limited exposure to a foreign language can modify how children think and enhance their cognitive skills. In other words, it’s not all or nothing and every bit counts.
After the talk I met Dr. Bialystok and learned that in 1981 she had been awarded the ACTFL-Paul Pimsleur Award for Research in Foreign Language Education; my father’s legacy! What a thrill. She is making such an important contribution to this field of study and helping parents like me to feel confident that we are doing the right thing for our children by introducing them to a second language.
Learn more about why starting early with a second language is key.