Just hearing two languages helps babies develop cognitive skills before they even speak. In fact, a new study shows that babies raised in bilingual environments develop essential skills like decision-making and problem-solving even before they speak.
Credit: I-LABS UW
The study, conducted by the University of Washington, included 16 babies. Half were from English speaking households and the other half were from English and Spanish speaking households. To test them, they listened to a variety of vocals, from pre-verbal to English and Spanish sounds. The researchers tracked the babies’ responses to sounds using magnetoencephalography, which allowed them to clearly identify which parts of the brain were activated by electromagnetic activity.
Babies from English- and Spanish-speaking households showed high levels of activity in the prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex, the regions of the brain responsible for executive functions such as decision-making and problem-solving. “Our results suggest that babies raised in bilingual families practice tasks related to executive functions even before they start speaking.” so lead author Naja Ferjan Ramírez in a press release. “Babies who grew up speaking two languages seem to stay open to the sounds of new languages longer than their monolingual counterparts, which is a good thing and a very adaptive mechanism for their brains.” added Patricia Kuhl, co-author, in the same press release.
Photo credit: University of Washington
This adaptive mechanism has great benefits for babies and adults alike. Numerous studies, such as that by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, have shown that bilingual adults have better executive brain function than adults who speak only one language. This means they are better able to focus on a task, recall memories, and demonstrate superior problem-solving and planning skills. Bilingual children also have these skills. Additionally, all of these executive brain functions are critical to success in school, and academic success is an important predictor of long-term happiness. Learning another language can even help prevent or delay degenerative brain diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s in older people.
In short, there are no downsides to being bilingual, quite the contrary! And the best time to start is of course as early as possible. “Our results underscore the notion that not only can very young children learn multiple languages, but that early childhood is the optimal time for them to start.” closed Naja Ferjan Ramírez. A view endorsed and endorsed by renowned neuroscientist and child specialist Sam Wang.
Credit: I-LABS UW
How do you raise a bilingual child?
And don’t think that being bilingual yourself is absolutely necessary in order to raise a bilingual child. In reality, several cases can occur. If you are already bilingual or part of a bilingual household, try the one parent, one language approach. Choose which parent speaks which language with the baby so everyone knows what to expect and your baby knows how to respond. If you’re not already bilingual, that’s fine! You can still expose your child to different languages. There are many foreign words in English. You can show him foreign foods every time you eat him or watch a bilingual show with your child. As long as you expose him to the foreign words consistently and in the same context, he will reap the benefits.