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A Bilingual Mind

Bilingual education.

There is no denying that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are vital to the future of our country. As such, STEM instruction is playing a much bigger role for today's students than those of past generations. A successful STEM education can help mold young people into critical thinkers who are innovative problem solvers. In many schools, a stronger emphasis is being placed on the importance of STEM courses than on language arts and humanities classes.

While advocates will argue that reading, writing, and music are just as important as math and sciences, languages often get overlooked in these academic subject debates. Even though budget cuts and standardized testing have led to a dramatic reduction in the types of courses offered, however, language credits are still a graduation requirement in many high schools and in most colleges and universities.

Being Bilingual was Once Frowned Upon

It may sound strange now, but bilingualism was once considered a detriment to a child's academic success. Educators generally considered children who knew more than one language to be at a disadvantage when compared to their peers who only knew how to speak English. It was believed that learning more than one language from a young age would confuse children. People thought kids would spend too much effort attempting to learn both languages to become fluent and/or confident in either.

"Experts" at the time believed that bilingual people would have limited vocabularies and lower IQ scores than people who spoke just one language, who were dubbed monolinguals. While there must have been some reasoning as to why these beliefs were accepted at this time, there are actually numerous benefits that prove otherwise.

5 Important Advantages to Learning Another Language

The ability to communicate with people from different countries or cultures is perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when considering the advantages of being bilingual. (Another plus? More job opportunities and higher pay scales are also out there for bilinguals!) Bilingual people are often good listeners who connect well with others. These social benefits are certainly important, but research has also found that the ability to speak, think, and write in more than one language has a significant impact on a person's cognitive ability.

1. Learning a second language at a young age helps improve basic elementary school skills.

One study found that students who received foreign language instruction at the elementary school level scored higher on various tests measuring task ability than their peers who did not receive foreign language instruction.

2. There is a correlation between being bilingual and intelligence.

A research study comprised of a group of children who were bilingual in French and English found that the bilingual children performed better than monolingual children on verbal and non-verbal IQ tests.

3. Being bilingual can lead to higher standardized test scores.

With so much emphasis being placed on standardized testing, educators should be pleased to learn that one focus group found students who received Spanish lessons three times per week for one school semester scored considerably higher in both math and language arts on a standardized achievement test than students who did not receive the Spanish lessons.

4. Learning a foreign language may help improve reading and spelling abilities.

A study of English-speaking Canadian children aged 9 through 13, whose parents also spoke Italian at home, participated in daily Italian heritage classes in school. When compared to monolingual peers who were only exposed to English at home, the bilingual students scored higher on word reading and word spelling examinations than the monolinguals.

5. An improved ability to solve science problems.

While it makes sense that bilingualism can help students with their reading and language skills, research has also found that language learning plays a role in science skills. A research group found that bilingual children who received the same instruction (from the same teacher) about making scientific hypotheses steadily outperformed the children who only spoke one language.

These studies and research groups show that the benefits of a bilingual mind are plentiful. It's also important to note that most children have the ability and capacity to learn more than one language. With so many obvious benefits, why aren't more schools offering language instruction at a young age? It is almost a mystery.

Parents who want their children to be exposed to more than one language, even if classes are not offered in the child's school, may opt for extracurricular programs, videos, books, or even tutoring with a bilingual friend or relative.

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