Benefits of Bilingual Education

Good survey of recent research on the effects of bilingual education in this article, “Six Benefits of Bilingual Education.” The six are:

  1. Attention

It turns out that, in many ways, the real trick to speaking two languages consists in managing not to speak one of those languages at a given moment — which is fundamentally a feat of paying attention.

People who speak two languages often outperform monolinguals on general measures of executive function. “[Bilinguals] can pay focused attention without being distracted and also improve in the ability to switch from one task to another,” says Sorace.

2. Empathy

Young children being raised bilingual have to follow social cues to figure out which language to use with which person and in what setting. As a result, says Sorace, bilingual children as young as age 3 have demonstrated a head start on tests of perspective-taking and theory of mind — both of which are fundamental social and emotional skills.

3. Reading (English)

4. School performance and engagement.

Compared with students in English-only classrooms or in one-way immersion, dual-language students have somewhat higher test scores and also seem to be happier in school. Attendance is better, behavioral problems fewer, parent involvement higher.

5. Diversity and integration.

6. Protection against cognitive decline and dementia.

File this away as a very, very long-range payoff. Researchers have found that actively using two languages seems to have a protective effect against age-related dementia — perhaps relating to the changes in brain structure we talked about earlier.


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