The ability to speak more than one language is a valuable skill that can offer a range of cognitive and economic benefits. Surprisingly, only nine percent of adults in the U.S. are fluent in a second language, compared to 50 percent in Europe. This discrepancy is partly attributed to the fact that many American children are not exposed to a second language until high school, and foreign language instruction is not always mandatory.
Research has shown that children are more likely to learn a second language effectively if they learn it at a young age. However, only 25 percent of elementary schools in the U.S. offer some form of foreign language instruction. In the past, there was a belief that teaching a child a foreign language too young could lead to verbal mistakes and delays due to interference between the two languages. Recent studies have found that being raised bilingual may facilitate the development of certain language and cognitive skills, such as mental flexibility, abstract thinking, and working memory.
Until the mid-1800s, bilingualism was common in the U.S. But in the 1880s, popular sentiment turned against immigrants, and it was thought that exposure to more than one language made children intellectually inferior. Although researchers discredited these early studies in the 1960s, the idea that children needed to choose a dominant language persisted. The hypothesis was that the brain is preset for only one language.
Reality dictates that children exposed to two languages before the age of 10 reach key language milestones at the same time as their monolingual peers and show no signs of language contamination or confusion. Studies also suggest the cognitive benefits of being exposed to a second language start as early as infancy. Bilingual infants more easily adapt to changing rules than monolingual infants.
In addition to the cognitive benefits, bilingualism has also been shown to pay off economically. Bilingual individuals earn, on average, five to 20 percent higher salaries than their monolingual counterparts.
So what does today’s research say about the potential benefits of bilingual education?
- Bilingualism makes learning languages easier: If you can speak two languages already, chances are it will be much easier to learn a third or fourth language.
- Bilingualism makes one better at multitasking: Bilinguals are in a constant state of linguistic multitasking. They must switch, shift, and process different languages in real-time, and this skill naturally crosses over to non-linguistic multitasking.
- Bilingualism makes one more empathetic: Research shows that bilinguals are better at showing empathy, which fosters human kindness and the ability to relate to others and see things from others’ perspectives.
- Bilingualism can make one richer: According to an article in The Economist, speaking more than one language makes it likelier that you will get paid more over the course of your life.
- Bilingualism might slow the effects of Alzheimer’s: According to a huge meta-analysis of all the various studies on the topic, learning and speaking multiple languages could reduce the chances of getting dementia. Second, if you were to get dementia, it slows its onset and lessens the symptoms. This is not to say bilingualism stops people from getting dementia, but it is a significant factor in reducing the chances of suffering its effects.
- Bilingualism can make you more attractive: Speaking another language is exotic, mysterious, and intelligent. In one study, a team put heart monitors on participants and measured which languages got the heart racing fastest. Unsurprisingly, the winner was Italian, Portuguese and French, coming in a close third.
Bilingualism comes with many rewards and speaking a second language can give you an edge in modern society. Everybody Loves Languages provides learning institutions and corporations internationally with language programs and solutions that provide the most innovative, tech-enabled language teaching methodologies.
And the company continues to innovate. It recently partnered with Row 9-Digital to teach languages through AcadeMe+, the film-based interactive lesson platform that offers lessons from more than 1,000 of Hollywood’s most loved and carefully curated films. EFS+ is the company’s first commercial program to integrate AcadeMe’s lessons as an extension of its popular English for Success language program. EFS+ offers institutions a scaled solution to manage classes that vary in size and objectives. AcadeMe is proving to be a game-changer for the edtech industry and Everybody Loves Languages plans to roll out additional programs integrated with AcadeMe’s Hollywood film-based lessons in the coming months.