Benefits of Dual-Language Learning
Young children’s brains are extremely malleable. Up until puberty, their brains are built to absorb all of the information that they can. So it’s not completely shocking that children that are raised bilingual are able to learn two languages in the time it takes most babies to learn one.
If you’re wondering if you’ve missed the “window of opportunity,” there are many studies on exactly when a child’s brain starts losing it’s natural ability. Many agree that it’s before adolescence, around the age of 5-7.
Babies and young children who are learning a new language respond best to personal interaction rather than through electronic devices such as videos or CDs.
With only about 25% of the U.S. population able to speak a second language, dual language schools have become more and more popular to mitigate the deficiency of bilingual language speakers in the U.S.
Learn more about dual language schools and contact IMA for more information on a bilingual education in Bellevue or Seattle, Washington.
Classroom Models for Multi-Language Learning
Depending on the environment and age of the child, different classroom models of dual-language education may be more effective. Understand the two basic classroom models below and talk with a dual language school to find out which model is right for your child.
Language Immersion Classroom Model
A full language immersion (also called one-way immersion) classroom is guided by a single language- often not the child’s native language. The idea is to completely surround the child with materials and vocabulary that help them learn the new language.
Think about how you learned your native language. Most likely, you just picked it up from hearing those around you speaking it and being immersed in a culture of people interacting every day in that given language.
The goal of this model is complete fluency in the secondary language assuming that the child’s native language is being spoken at home.
Bilingual Classroom Model
Although there are many different types within a bilingual educational model, a common bilingual classroom model (also called dual language immersion or two-way immersion) is lead by two teachers; one that speaks and instructs in English and another that interacts and instructs in a secondary language such as Chinese or Spanish.
Like the language immersion model, the goal of the bilingual classroom is complete fluency in both languages by learning a new language at the same time as developing their own.
There are different benefits to each type of program. Consider speaking with a school that does both so that they can help you understand which dual language program may be the best fit for your child.
Benefits of Dual-Language Early Education
Whether you choose a full-immersion classroom model, or a bilingual classroom model of dual-language learning, the scientific benefits are still the same. Research shows that a dual language early education can lead to complete proficiency in both languages. But there are other benefits as well for our young learners.
- Improved Attention- In learning to be bilingual, children must learn how to actively switch their brains from one language to another based on the environment that they’re in.
In the long-term, this improves their focused attention without getting distracted and improves their ability to switch from one task to another.
- Excellent Academic Engagement & Performance- “In studies covering six states and 37 districts, they have found that, compared with students in English-only classrooms or in one-way immersion, dual-language students have somewhat higher test scores and also seem to be happier in school. Attendance is better, behavioral problems fewer, parent involvement higher.” (Source)
- Higher Empathy- Being raised as bilingual teaches kids to learn how to evaluate their environment in order to know which language to speak. Studies have implicated that language learning has contributed to young children’s social and emotional development.
- Improved Reading Abilities- In one study performed at American University, Dual-language students outperformed their peers in English-reading skills in just one year of learning. Although there are follow up studies here, it’s possible that dual-language learning allows students to better understand the idea of language in general.
- Better Problem Solving- When learning two languages, children must learn to intake information as concepts, and practice their applications. This develops their ability to problem solve further than just learning how information can be put together.
- Greater Cultural Acceptance- Many dual-language programs started with native English speakers and have recently started to include non-native English students. In modern dual language classrooms, diversity is the norm. Students become comfortable, early in life, with kids from other backgrounds and cultures.
It’s important to note too that non-native English students that attend a regular English classroom often lose a big piece of their own language and culture. Many parents think that this is for the best, but in fact, it’s often not.
- Long-Term Cognitive Endurance- Although not heavily researched, yet, scientists are finding that among patients with Alzheimer’s, those who spoke two languages were carrying on with daily functioning longer, and at a higher level, than their monolingual counterparts. Therefore, it’s been hypothesized that actively using two languages helps change the brain structure in a way that protects against age-related dementia.
Myths about dual-language classrooms
Although there is a wealth of scientific research on dual-language learning in young kids, there are still some misunderstood facts.
Myth: Bilingual classrooms are confusing for children.
It’s natural for young kids that are learning two languages to mix up words, but studies show that this active exercise of language switching is actually good for the brain. Consistent practice of speaking in two languages improves children’s attention and problem solving skills.
Myth: Dual language learning hinders verbal functioning
It’s not uncommon for parents to track their child’s progress and compare it against “the norm.” Whether the child is learning two languages or not, parents seem to expect a certain level of verbal communication by a given age. It’s also not uncommon for any child to have a language delay.
It is easy to blame a bilingual education for this delay, but in reality there is no evidence to support this. It’s more likely just a variation in one child’s progress.
Myth: Students won’t become proficient in either language.
Many parents think that a dual language classroom model greatly jeopardizes a child’s learning in their primary language. This is, in fact, a myth.
Research shows that in bilingual classrooms where English is the primary language, students achieve similar, if not better, scores on the reading and math portions of standardized testing.
Myth: Parents must be fluent in the new language for a bilingual childhood to be successful
Although a base knowledge of the new language is helpful for raising a bilingual child, parents, by no means, need to be proficient in the new language. Dual language schools can help give your child the stimulation they’ll need to learn the second language while you are able to continue learning the language yourself.
Myth: Bilingual schools are only for non-native English speakers.
Although many non-native english parents more often require the support of a dual-language school, this myth couldn’t be less true.
Many English-speaking parents are better understanding the benefits behind a multilingual education and are enrolling their young children in dual-language schools. The scientific benefits highlighted in the last section hold true for native english children and non-native english children alike.
Myth: Children can simply pick up a second language like sponges
Children that are actively learning a second language require a lot of environmental and cognitive support. The U.S. culture is well-known for not being a supportive environment for dual language learning, although developments are being made.
Studies show that the child’s environment, both in and out of the classroom, are equally important in learning a second language. Therefore it can be deducted that a child is not going to proficiently learn a second language without a well-rounded, supportive environment, both in and out of school, for both languages equally.
Myth: Kids can just learn a second language in Middle School/High School
While this is technically true, studies show that younger children are better at learning a second language because they’re more sensitive to learning grammar- a core piece of language processing.
Learn More About IMA’s Unique Dual-Language Education
in Bellevue and Seattle WA
We understand why parents and families are skeptical of dual-language learning. Studies are still being developed and research is still relatively new. But we believe in the benefits that a immersion program and bilingual education can have for a young learner.
If you’re interested in learning more about our classroom models and how they could likely benefit your child, contact us today!