The aforementioned study, which was funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), asked both monolingual and bilingual children to respond to a series of pictures with computer keys. The bilingual kids showed a higher aptitude to adjust to more complex questions that required sharp multi-tasking abilities. "In simplest terms, the switching task is an indicator of the ability to multi-task," said Peggy McCardle, Ph.D., chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch at the NIH. "Bilinguals have two sets of language rules in mind, and their brains apparently are wired to toggle back and forth between them depending on the circumstances." Parents know just how important it is to be able to multi-task so this could be reason enough to teach your kids a second language.
Bilingual kids may also have an advantage when it comes to processing sounds, according to a recent study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. According to the study abstract, "…through experience-related tuning of attention, the bilingual auditory system becomes highly efficient in automatically processing sound." Researchers found that multi-lingual children are better able to identify a spoken syllable and have enhanced sensory and cognitive functions. Bilingualism may actually help keep the nervous system healthy since switching between several languages is a type of brain exercise.
It may seem logical to believe that kids who have multiple language skills may process information more slowly or have difficulty communicating clearly but just the opposite is true. "Studies show that children who are bilingual or multilingual perform better in other academic areas and adjust to new situations more easily later in life," says Caryn Antonini, a mom of two and founder of the Early Lingo Series for children. "These children statistically earn higher scores in SATs (both math and verbal), show significant gains in IQ performance, and exhibit advanced mental flexibility and superiority in concept formation compared to their monolingual counterparts."
Make it happen
"The best strategy is to start as early as possible."
A lot of parents are hesitant to teach their kids a second language, especially if they are monolingual, but it can be done! The best strategy is to start as early as possible. "Within the first six months of life, babies babble using 70 different sounds which make up all the languages of the world," says Antonini. "There are different windows of opportunity in language learning, but truly the best time to learn for a child is before puberty when after that point it becomes much more difficult to learn to speak as a native speaker." There are many teaching opportunities to choose from including formal full-immersion programs, DVDs, online programs and private tutoring. Regardless of which you choose, the gift of a second language will be worth the effort.
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