Brains Benefit From Bilingual Education

For young children, learning two languages goes beyond promoting cultural awareness — it creates a striking number of new neural pathways that promote cognitive ability and social-emotional skills. This fascinating lesson, as examined in this article from NPR (“6 Potential Brain Benefits of Bilingual Education”), reinforces the Foundation’s commitment to expand high-quality early learning through three guiding principles: promote practice and policy based on developmental science, eliminate disparities based on race and place, and ensure that services are both holistic and integrated.

The research presented in this article provides unique and strong evidence regarding the value of children learning multiple languages. On the cognitive side, bilingualism is correlated with greater executive functioning (i.e., the ability to plan, focus and remember) and task-switching (i.e., the ability to shift attention and adapt to different situations), which are critical skills for learning and development. On the social-emotional side, the article notes that even as young as age 3, children who were raised to be bilingual have stronger skills in perspective-taking (i.e., understanding alternate points of view) and theory of mind (i.e., recognizing the mental states of oneself and others). These social-emotional skills (sometimes called “non-cognitive” skills) can be just as crucial to learning as so-called “cognitive” skills, and therefore, bilingual learning has a double benefit for the developing brains of children.

The implications of this research are clear: Bilingual learning promotes early childhood development not only for children in non-English-speaking households, but for all children. Learn more about how a child’s brain develops in their first 2,000 days of life — and the great potential that exists in this limited time frame.