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What’s Happening in the Brain of a Multi-Lingual Child?

By Matthew Lynch — May 31, 2018 2 min read

Have you ever considered what might be going in the mind of someone who happens to be multilingual? Modern research continues to point to the fact that individuals who speak more than one language have a tremendous advantage. The brain becomes permanently shaped and influenced by the addition of an extra language, but is that where it stops?

It turns out that there may be more going on inside the mind of a multilingual child than we initially imagined. Researchers are now finding that there are a few hidden benefits for kids who can speak more than their own mother tongue. If you’ve been wondering whether a foreign language class could help your child, take a look at these primary benefits of being bilingual.

Improved Executive Function

If you can speak in more than one language, you have to consistently make a choice regarding which one is appropriate to use at any given time. The choice represents a small form of self-control as you select the correct language and consciously choose to ignore the other. This subtle decision-making process has been shown to improve executive functioning in children.

The development of language can help to promote faster cognitive development in children, particularly where it relates to executive functioning. They may exhibit more self-control and the ability to better regulate themselves when they have two languages at their disposal.

Better Test Scores

It may be surprising for you to learn that multilingual children tend to have higher test scores than their English-speaking only counterparts. Those students that continue to actively refine both languages in an educational setting tend to perform better and have higher reading levels. According to one study on this phenomenon, dual-language students often performed one full grade level higher by the end of middle school compared to English-only peers.

More Empathy

Students who speak more than one language often develop a better sense of empathy toward others. A bilingual student has more opportunity to interact with people who may be from a different walk of life. They can imagine what it’s like to live in a world where someone else doesn’t understand the language. Because of their own improved executive functioning, they can even switch gears to use the other language appropriately.

Students that consistently interact with others who are different from them are shaping what the world around them looks like. As a result, their worldview expands tremendously and true diversity is born. This is even beneficial for those who need the multilingual child’s translating abilities. They could feel more included in the community when they have someone else to connect with.

Speaking multiple languages gives children a major advantage over their peers. Inside their brains, so many different tasks are taking place that concretely changes the pattern of their behavior. While the exact benefits aren’t always measurable, there’s no denying that learning a foreign language is a worthwhile pursuit.

The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.