Opinion / Blog

Young or old, learning a foreign language has benefits

By Tania_Sole ( Updated: 2015-06-24 17:22

At Arrowhead Elementary in Santa Clara, Utah half of the kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders spend half of each day in classes taught entirely in Mandarin Chinese. This model of language education is known as dual immersion: The students learn civics and reading in English, and math and science in a second language.”

Brain researchers who study bilingualism believe that the act of juggling two languages strengthens the brain system due to the requirement and constant practice such people have paying closer attention to what is being communicated. In some children who grow up bilingual or attend language immersion programs, the strong executive brain functions needed to focus might be what leads to better academic performance.

“Bilinguals are more efficient in resolving mental competition,” said psychology professor Judith Kroll, an expert on bilingualism and director of the Center for Language Science at Penn State University. “They’re apparently able to keep languages separate while keeping them both available and active in their minds at the same time.”

Moreover, research has shown that even adults can benefit from learning a new language.  Researchers from Bilingualism Matters at the University of Edinburgh tested the mental agility of almost 200 university students, divided into those who did or did not study other languages. The results showed that the language students showed more improvement in thinking skills than the non-language students.

The fact that learning a language in adulthood seems to give the same advantage as learning a language in childhood is very important because a lot of people think that bilingualism only refers to people who grew up speaking two languages equally well. In fact, the advantages of bilingualism are relevant to anyone who uses a second language, whether they learned it at a young age in the family, at school, or at an older age in the workplace. As Dr. Thomas Bak says, “Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain.”

The current obsession with starting young can sometimes lead families to think that older children and even the adults themselves shouldn’t make the effort.  But these studies show that what is important is the mental process of learning and using another language.  While starting young may make it easier, a late start also has a lot of value. To co-opt the Nike slogan regarding learning a new language, the motto should be “Just do it.”

The original blog is at:

Most Viewed Today's Top News