Benefits of learning a second language

Early literature on bilingualism raised concerns that learning more than one language could confuse children.  The more recent literature, however, suggests that bilingualism holds significant socio-cognitive advantages for our children.

COGNITIVE BENEFITS:

• Increases mental flexibility.

• Develops a strong working memory.

• Ability to multi-task.

• Delayed loss of mental ability in later life.

• Delayed onset of Alzheimer’s and Dementia in later years.

• Able to focus attention and cope with distractions – learners switch between two language systems, keeping the brain active and flexible (Zelasko and Antunez, 2000).

• Higher level of abstract thinking – promoted by reading and writing in two languages (Diaz, 1985).

• Improved “executive function”– we use it for planning, solving problems and performing mentally demanding tasks.

• Ability to switch wilfully from one task to another.

• More thorough comprehension of how language works.

• Essentially, being bilingual is like giving your brain muscles a “workout”.  Speaking two languages forces the brain to resolve internal conflict and

gives the mind a work-out that strengthens its cognitive muscles.

SOCIAL BENEFITS:

• Enables children to make new friends and create strong relationships, which is important in our ever increasingly diverse society

• Improves listening skills and boosts creativity.

• Exposes children to diverse customs and ideas and enables them to develop relationships with people that would otherwise have been prevented due to language barriers.

Research suggests that the earlier in life a child is exposed to a second language, the easier it is for the child to learn that language. Monika Schmid, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Essex, indicates that access to language is a crucial factor in the acquisition of that language.  Therefore, the more a child engages with a new language, the more proficient they will become.

Loryn Smith Lourens

[BSportScience; Honors Biokinetics;

PGCE (FET)]; Grade 4 Educator: Durban North College

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