The Benefits of Child Bilingualism

Out­side of the UK, bilin­gual­ism (or even tri­lin­gual­ism+) is the norm in Europe and, in some coun­tries and/or regions, even expec­ted. With that said, The Eco­nom­ist takes a look at the effect bilin­gual­ism has on a child’s brain.

Mon­it­or­ing lan­guages and keep­ing them sep­ar­ate is part of the brain’s exec­ut­ive func­tion, so these find­ings sug­gest that even before a child can speak, a bilin­gual envir­on­ment may speed up that func­tion’s devel­op­ment. Before rush­ing your off­spring into Tongan for Tod­dlers, though, there are a few caveats. For one thing, these pre­co­cious cog­nit­ive bene­fits have been demon­strated so far only in “crib” bilinguals—those liv­ing in house­holds where two lan­guages are spoken routinely. The research­ers spec­u­late that it might be the fact of hav­ing to learn two lan­guages in the same set­ting that requires great­er use of exec­ut­ive func­tion. So wheth­er those bene­fits accrue to chil­dren who learn one lan­guage at home, and one at school, remains unclear.

It’s worth not­ing that the exec­ut­ive func­tion is only a the­or­et­ic­al sys­tem, sup­posedly respons­ible for “plan­ning, cog­nit­ive flex­ib­il­ity, abstract think­ing, rule acquis­i­tion, ini­ti­at­ing appro­pri­ate actions and inhib­it­ing inap­pro­pri­ate actions, and select­ing rel­ev­ant sens­ory inform­a­tion”.