A recent article distributed by NACD, the National Association for Child Development, points out how studies show definite advantages for children learning two languages. My interest is peaked about how the amazing brain thrives with challenge. “There are several research studies conducted at universities from France, Canada, and USA that talk about how bilingualism/multilingualism is advantageous and gives bilingual children an edge over monolingual peers. In fact it is now seen that the positive implications of bilingualism extend not only to linguistic abilities but to cognitive function as well. These advantages emerge and can be observed as early as 24 months of age. By then the child has acquired a vocabulary in both the languages and has gained some experience in switching between them…..Bilinguals become better at paying attention. They have additional memory store, and then are able to use that information more efficiently with better executive function. Speaking two languages requires more attention to structure, meaning, and greater general awareness of the languages.”
Dual Language Immersion programs in our community elementary schools have already been received very positively. The drawback now is the pressure posed by many parents concerned that their children are losing out because of limited classes and opportunity.
This was a special feature on our local news broadcast last week. “Thousands of Utah second-graders can speak in French, write in Chinese and read in Spanish. Their parents have learned about language immersion programs and they're seeking out schools for a coveted spot”, says anchor Nadine Wimmer. In typical dual immersion programs in Utah, students divide their time between English and a second language to learn academics.
“There is research that children who learn or acquire two languages simultaneously, that their brains are sort of stretched in the process and they are actually better equipped in other cognitive areas because of acquiring two languages," adds Johanna Watzinger-Tharp, associate dean for international and interdisciplinary programs at the University of Utah.
In light of this information, elementary schools face increased challenges rising to meet the call for more language. Families will be wise to provide opportunities for their children on their own. One detail should become clear to educators and parents foreseeing a coming surge in multi-lingual offerings for children as well as adults: learning each language well-enough to read and write excellently will require the best programs available, with those that are systematic, sequential, and explicit topping the list.