The cognitive benefits of bilingual education are many. It gives bilingual children a great number of benefits. Many of these same benefits are not noted in their monolingual counterparts, therefore further reinforcing the decision to educate children in two languages. The benefits of bilingual education are apparent in several areas.
The first of these areas I would like to discuss is the ability for the bilingual child to outperform his monolingual peers in certain mental abilities such as distilling information; filtering out unimportant information and focusing on the important information. This leads to a bilingual child being better able to prioritize and manage multiple tasks according to research done at Penn State in February of 2011 and reported in Science Daily magazine. Prioritization, and being able to work on multiple projects at the same time, is a lifelong skill necessary for success in many different areas of life. This is one of the best benefits of bilingual education.
As one can imagine, this could be very helpful in today’s world. We have so much information and so many distractions, that it may be helpful to have an advanced mechanism to be able to filter all of this information. This also aids the bilingual child when learning, as they are able to focus on the important or pertinent information and ignore the less important information. The conclusion of the above referenced study done at Penn State is very simple: being bilingual is good for you. By extension, the benefits of bilingual education are worth pursuing.
Another interesting study was done by the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy as reported in Science Daily magazine. They weren’t specifically looking at the benefits of bilingual education, but we can make certain inferences from their study. At the academy, young recruits learn languages at a very fast pace. They are chosen for their aptitude and taught languages, such as Arabic, Russian, or Chinese, over a span of about 13 months; from no knowledge to advanced fluency. The pace is intense, and as such was a perfect incubator to examine the brain, and what happens to it under extreme language learning. This would hopefully serve as a snapshot of what the bilingual brain undergoes in their everyday lives.
The study found that language learning actually makes the brain grow. The language learner’s brains developed in size in key areas: the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning new material and spatial navigation, as well as three other areas in the cerebral cortex.This growth lends itself to the bilingual, again, becoming a superior language learner later in life. With improved concentration, a larger and stronger hippocampus, and an increased ability to distill information, the bilingual has the opportunity to maximize further learning opportunities; even ones unrelated to language.
Another of the benefits of bilingual education is that it exposes babies and young children to flexible thinking through the medium of two languages. Bilingual children learn that things and events in the world can be called two different things. They can then flexibly switch between the “labels” which gives the brain a great workout. This constant exercising of the brain is what helps the bilingual make gains in things like concentration and focus, according to a University of Washington study done in August of 2009.