Filipinos are fortunate that the country's educational system supports a child's education in more than one language, specifically English and Filipino. In some schools, Mandarin is taught too. Science has shown that being bilingual has several benefits, including some that give your child a smarter edge to her one-language speaking peers. Here are a few:
1. A bilingual toddler may learn words faster. If you think that speaking in your native tongue might slow down or hinder her from learning English, the opposite might be true.
Research published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that babies who were already learning to speak two languages -- English and Mandarin were studied in this case -- mastered the rules of language faster than monolingual babies. Plus, they also found that bilingual babies also surpassed their monolingual peers regarding vocabulary as they were able to learn new words more effectively. How cool is that?
2. A bilingual child exercises her brain more often. Did you know that it's possible to distinguish a bilingual person from a monolingual person just by looking at their brain scans? Cognitive neuropsychologist Jubin Abutalebiexplained to the BBC, “Bilingual people have significantly more gray matter than monolinguals in their anterior cingulate cortex, and that is because they are using it so much more often.”
The brain is like a muscle, Abutalebi continued, in that the more it is used, the stronger, bigger, and more flexible it gets. And because your bilingual child is constantly using his brain to speak and repress one language as he uses the other, he gets to exercise his brain more often too!
3. A bilingual child may be better at focusing and paying attention. Knowing two languages helps a child perform mentally demanding tasks such as planning, solving problems, and staying focused. A researcher at the University of Edinburgh, Antonella Sorace, explained that bilinguals often “outperform monolinguals on general measures of executive function,” reported NPR. “[Bilinguals] can pay focused attention without being distracted and also improve the ability to switch from one task to another,” said Sorace.
Think of it this way: bilingual people are unconsciously and constantly figuring out which language to speak and not speak when conversing with others. It’s a feat of paying attention, said NPR. Knowing when to use “Kain po tayo!” as opposed to “Let's eat!” depending on who you’re talking to requires skill whether you realize it or not.
4. A bilingual child may have better social skills. And it’s not just because they can interact with more people. “Children in multilingual environments have social experiences that provide routine practice in considering the perspectives of others: They have to think about who speaks which language to whom, who understands which content, and the times and places in which different languages are spoken,” saidKatherine Kinzler, associate professor of psychology and human development at Cornell University, in an article for the New York Times.
Sorace added that kids as young as 3 years old had been shown to perform well on tests measuring perspective-taking -- this is essential when it comes to developing your child’s social and emotional skills. 5. Bilinguals may have better brain health in the long-term For your child, this brain benefit isn’t until several decades from now (a long way off!), but research has shown that bilinguals may be cushioned against the damaging effects of dementia.
On average, bilinguals show symptoms of dementia five years later than monolinguals, according to psycholinguist Ellen Bialystok from York University. Why? This may go back again to how bilinguals have more gray matter in their brains that “compensate during degeneration of the middle parts of the brain,” Bialystok told the BBC.