There has been lots of new neuroscience devoted to studying bilingualism and the brain. While many studies focus on how young children learn and hear language, results have also shown amazing benefits that bilingual or multilingual people may have suspected to be true from experience. This research also continues to inform us on how to teach children who are bilingual, and how to place a value on bilingual learning in childhood.
Ellen Bialystok, a cognitive neuroscientist, points out that growing up bilingual has life long effects on being better at multi-tasking, intuitively understanding grammatical structures, seeing multiple viewpoints and being able to filter important vs non-important information. These strengths of executive functioning and attention can help us in a world drenched with information.
More recently, being bilingual has been identified as being protective in old age against Alzheimers and dementia. She stresses that the languages must be used with frequency and families that speak another language at home should see this as “a potential gift.”
A new investigation by researchers in Finland suggests that “Balanced Bilinguals,” people who grew up speaking two languages, have brains where the two languages seem to be fully intertwined.
A child receiving a bilingual education would be a “Balanced Bilingual,” and really, learning multiple languages is also easier for this group. The cognitive benefits are similar to those with musical training, so the message is: practice, practice, practice! Children have the advantage of making it part of play and academics together.