Fluency in two languages could be a major benefit to your child’s cognitive development, and when it comes to becoming bilingual, starting young is key. Learning a second language is practically effortless for most children ages 2–5, because their brains are still in the habit of mimicking new sounds. From those young ages through preadolescence, a child has time to practice a new language through play-based and immersion learning.
The following are just five of the many reasons why learning a second language is beneficial to a child’s ongoing cognitive health and development.
Stronger cognition and executive functions
Learning a second language has been shown to strengthen cognitive and linguistic development in children. In order to balance between two languages, a bilingual brain is constantly flexing its executive functioning. This ongoing mental exercise in attention translates to increased focus, better conflict management and a heightened ability to multitask.
Better working memory
Knowing two or more languages has been linked to developing a better working memory — that is, an individual’s ability to store and process information over a short period of time. A good working memory means increased focus and understanding during complex activities, such as mental calculations and reading comprehension. Ages 5–7 are critical years for honing working memory skills, pointing to another reason why preschool is an ideal time to start teaching a child another language.
Improved linguistic awareness
Learning a second language also encourages a heightened sense of linguistic awareness when it comes to nuances in a language’s structure, grammar, etc. — an important skill for reading, writing and holding a conversation. Additionally, a more sophisticated understanding of language makes it easier to pick up a third or fourth language later on.
A bilingual learning environment provides an important level of diversity. Exposing children to a diverse learning environment can encourage a message of community, understanding and respect, helping to create cultural awareness and fluency in a global context. The confidence and worldliness kids will develop by learning a second language will prove to be an asset in all settings.
Benefits down the road
Since we are living in an increasingly interconnected world, career opportunities multiply for those who know more than one language. So, while learning a second language might be fun and games for your toddler, she’ll thank you later on when it comes time for her to decide on a career.
And thanks to the better executive control it promotes, bilingualism has been proven to protect against dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related conditions related to cognitive decline. Compared to older monolingual individuals, elderly bilingual speakers typically have better memory and overall executive control. In short: A bilingual brain seems to stay sharper, longer.