Here's How Bilingual Education Actually Helps Improve Our Brains and Our Social Lives

It's pretty fascinating.

Knowing one or multiple languages isn't only useful when you're traveling, it can be beneficial for your brain and social interactions.

Recently, NPR discussed six different ways that bilingual education helps improves a child's performance in school, their understanding of diversity and integration, reading abilities, empathy, attention, and prevention of cognitive issues in the future, such as dementia.

It all starts with what happens in the day-to-day classroom. Although bilingual education had and still has a bit of a stigma because earlier research said bilingual students had lower IQ scores and were performing less well than monolingual English speakers, researchers now say that these conclusions were made after only looking at groups that were socially disadvantaged. 

According to couple Wayne Thomas and Virginia Collier — professors emeritus at Virginia's George Mason University who spent 30 years researching bilingual education throughout a range of states and districts — bilingual students actually perform better in school, have less behavioral issues, and are happier than their monolingual peers. Harvard's Gigi Luk also found that bilingual students are just as good at reading comprehension because their brains have to do some problem solving for things to click.

"This is very surprising," Luk said. "You would expect the reading comprehension performance to mirror vocabulary — it's a cornerstone of comprehension."

Today, Delaware, New York City, North Carolina, Utah, Oregon, and Washington state are some of the prominent places that are looking into expanding the educational world of dual-language programs.

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But this isn't the first time that people have praised the cognitive benefits of bilingualism. Univision Noticias published a video in 2013 that did just that and brought attention to the fact that 18 percent of Americans can speak another language.

While researchers say young children who are raised as bilingual speakers are more apt to figure out social cues to figure out which language to speak, there's also a social aspect that they have to overcome in order to succeed. 

When it comes to feeling accepted at school, putting native English speakers in classrooms with bilingual ones promotes diversity and helps them understand cultural differences. Researchers say that bilingual students and families also feel more welcome in this kind of environment.

"Many parents fear their language is an obstacle, a problem, and if they abandon it their child will integrate better," Antonella Sorace, a researcher from the University of Edinburgh, said. "We tell them they're not doing their child a favor by giving up their language."

TED-Ed goes into a more in-depth explanation of how brain function plays a role in understanding social and emotional contexts in this video from 2015.

It all makes sense to us. Plus, how nice would it be to understand more of the languages that surround us in our homes, our neighborhoods, and during our travels?

(H/T: NPR)

Cover image: Eiko Tsuchiya / Shutterstock.com

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