New study: Exposing kids to two languages (or more) from birth will 'super-charge' their brains
If you are debating whether or not you should expose your baby to two languages, we bet this will prompt you to dust off those old Irish/French/Spanish skills (no matter how basic) straight away.
Because a new study has shown that babies raised in bilingual environments develop core cognitive skills like decision-making and problem-solving -- long before they can even speak.
The study, carried out at the University of Washington, tested 16 babies where half came from English-speaking households and the other half from English- and Spanish-speaking households. To conduct the research, the scientists made the babies listen to a variety of speech sounds, from preverbal to English- and Spanish-specific sounds.
Researchers then monitored the babies’ responses to the sounds using magnetoencephalography (MEG), which helped them clearly identify which parts of the brain were activated via electromagnetic activity.
And what transpired, was that the babies from English- and Spanish-speaking households had more activity in the prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex -- the regions of the brain responsible for executive functions, like decision-making and problem-solving.
“Our results suggest that before they even start talking, babies raised in bilingual households are getting practise at tasks related to executive function,” lead study author Naja Ferjan Ramírez said in a press release.
His co-author, Patricia Kuhl, backed this up.
"Babies raised listening to two languages seem to stay 'open' to the sounds of novel languages longer than their monolingual peers, which is a good and highly adaptive thing for their brains to do."
This research seems to back up older studies, which also show that the adaptive mechanism of handling two languages reaps enormous benefits for both babies and adults. In fact, this study from National Center for Biotechnology Information, showed that bilingual adults have better executive brain functions than adults who only speak one language. That means bilingual adults are better able to switch focus between tasks, recall memories, and demonstrate higher-level problem-solving and planning skills.
Oh, and it doesn't end there. Other research has shown that learning another language can even help prevent or delay the onset of degenerative brain diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s for older adults.
Here are three tips from the Linguistic Society for raising a bilingual child -- even if you’re not bilingual:
If you’re already bilingual, or part of a bilingual household, then try the “one parent, one language” method. Basically, clarify which parent speaks which language to the baby. That way, everyone knows what to expect - and your baby knows how to respond.
If you aren’t already bilingual, that’s okay! You can still expose your child to different languages. Lots of foreign words make their way into English. You can point out foreign foods every time you have them, or watch a bilingual show with your child. As long as you expose them to the foreign words in a consistent way with the same context, they’ll reap the benefits.
Try using a Language Exchange community, where you and your child can speak another language with native speakers together. You’ll both reap the benefits with constant practice.