Raising children requires parents to put in effort of promoting their physical, social, psychological and cognitive development. Generally, parents aim to help their child grow in a well-rounded manner, encouraging all kinds of activities and passions. A range of skills and occupations are often taught to children, in order to transfer valuable capabilities onto them, and enable them to lead a better, more prosperous life. In the process, the value of learning a second language remains highly contested. Older research considered knowing more than one language to be a detriment to people’s cognitive function, but newer evidence seeks to challenge that notion. There is a considerable body of work dedicated to understanding the effects of bilingualism on people’s lives, with both pro and anti-sides of the argument producing new research. An important decision lies between the parents of today – should they promote second language learning in their kids? This paper argues that bilingualism introduces a variety of benefits into a child’s life, many of which are conductive to leading a richer, more fulfilled life, and promoting lifelong development of one’s capabilities. Despite much of the evidence on the subject being contradictory, there are possibilities of improving a person’s cognitive function and social capabilities by learning multiple languages. By ensuring that the child is able to be challenged in their language learning process, as well as promoting lifelong learning, parents gain the ability to improve the life of their offspring.
Improving General Cognitive Function
The majority of research on the subject of bilingual learning focus on determining its effect on a person’s cognitive ability. There is an ongoing debate in the scientific community, with new and emergent evidence on the subject being written for more than two decades. As outlined by an overview of the ongoing scientific research, a number of works have shown that learning more than one language improves executive function, even having influence on a person developing Alzheimer’s in the old age (Antoniou, 2019). Learning and practicing a language can be seen as a mentally-engaging activity. Much like other similar actions, it helps the brain use a larger brain network, providing cognitive stimulation (Antoniou, 2019). Therefore, general cognitive function is likely to improve when a person learns a second language. The specific effects, researchers state, are difficult to quantify in childhood, which makes determining particular benefits impossible (Antoniou, 2019). Supporting evidence has also shown that the process of switching languages takes on a person’s part, engaging cognitive control areas of the brain.
However, further skepticism continues to persist in the scientific community. Studies researching the same effects fail to produce significant results or find them to be influenced by other factors. Newer evidence shows the executive function as being dependent on many variables. This was determined by a number of studies, including research into bilingual advantage tests (Paap et al., 2015). In particular, works highlight a need for challenging activities to promote continued cognitive effort. Despite the ability of language-switching to be conducive to cognitive effort, the effects diminish over time, requiring a change in circumstance in order to promote better mental engagement (Blanco-Elorrieta & Pylkkänen, 2018). As a whole, the body of research does not deny the existence of certain benefits to learning new languages. Instead, it argues that the subject requires considerable nuance in how it is understood and practiced. By providing one’s children with different ways to learn and apply a language, parents will be able to take advantage of the cognitive effort produced in the process.
Communication, Learning and Life Opportunities
Early language learning can be a helpful way to let children learn new skills, one that gives them the capacity to develop more easily. Research shows that young infants are able to distinguish and learn language phonetics extremely quickly, having a capacity to understand different types of speech and multiple different languages at once. However, this skill declines sharply between 6 and 12 months, making it more difficult for children to adopt a new language (Kuhl et al., 2003). However, scientists have found that exposure to different languages, combined with interpersonal connection can diminish the decline in language understanding. This research shows that children can gain an ability to become bilingual quicker if they are taught from an early age, making it easier for them to adopt different languages later on in life. As a result, it can be concluded that two-language learning is beneficial to early life childhood development.
As a skill, language learning is also capable of giving children many different opportunities in life. Connecting with other people via the worldwide web, learning about other cultures and traditions, and expanding their regular pool of knowledge are all possible through early life bilingualism. Furthermore, knowing different languages opens up educational and professional opportunities before them. A teen or young adult has a wider choice of living conditions, educational institutions and employment options if they know two languages.
While the discussion primarily focuses on childhood education, it is also vital to examine how the subject impacts older adults. A child will grow into an adult at some point, making the experience of learning a second language valuable to aging. By allowing children to experience languages from an early age, parents foster a curiosity toward learning languages, building a necessary foundation for lifelong bilingualism. Research shows that practicing more than one language can be conducive to combatting a number of conditions often found in the elderly. Dementia, for example, severely deteriorates a person’s cognitive function, often rendering them unable to lead a fulfilling, happy life. Stimulating the brain with challenging activity helps to delay the development of dementia. Knowing a second language, then, can be an effective way to engage one’s brain and allow them to better fight the condition. Research shows that practicing more than one language delays the onset of dementia symptoms, helping older adults to retain their cognitive function for longer (Bialystok et al., 2016). Alzheimer’s disease, similarly, can be severely hindered by practicing two languages in one’s life (Bialystok et al., 2016). Parents should strive to best equip their children to handle life’s challenges. Therefore, protecting children from diseases later in life is an important aspect of child-rearing.
Antoniou, M. (2019). The advantages of bilingualism debate. Annual Review of Linguistics, 5(1), 395-415. Web.
Blanco-Elorrieta, E., & Pylkkänen, L. (2018). Ecological validity in bilingualism research and the bilingual advantage. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22(12), 1117-1126. Web.
Kuhl, P. K., Tsao, F., & Liu, H. (2003). Foreign-language experience in infancy: Effects of short-term exposure and social interaction on phonetic learning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(15), 9096-9101. Web.
Bialystok, E., Abutalebi, J., Bak, T., Burke, D., & Kroll, J. (2016). Aging in two languages: Implications for public health. Ageing Res Rev. Web.
Paap, K. R., Johnson, H. A., & Sawi, O. (2015). Bilingual advantages in executive functioning either do not exist or are restricted to very specific and undetermined circumstances. Cortex, 69, 265-278. Web.