Updated: Apr 23
Having experienced the advantages of bilingualism, I am determined to cultivate a bilingual environment for my child. There are numerous benefits of learning a second language at an early age and the list below is not exhaustive.
1. Ability to Learn Language Peak before Age 6 or 7
A child’s brain is like a sponge. It is a well-known fact that children learn languages faster and better. This could be due to them using less vocabulary and simpler sentences to express their thoughts compared to adults. Children also have more free time to pick up a new language. Now think, how many books did your child read as compared to you in the past month?
So how early to start learning, you may wonder? Some researchers say that the language acquisition skills peak at or before the age 6 or 7 while some argue that this magical ability doesn’t wean off until puberty. However, all agree that it is easier to learn a second language when the child starts earlier.
A study has shown that after the teen years, the brain changes and makes it extremely challenging for an adult to learn a foreign language (1).
2. Improves overall cognitive ability
The cognitive benefits of learning a language have a direct impact on a child’s academic achievement. Research has shown that training the brain to use two languages leads to improved concentration which in turn leads to improved academic results. Bilingual children are also found to be more creative, have better multi-tasking skills, math skills, and problem-solving skills.
3. More receptive to other cultures and experiences
Children who speak a second language are also exposed to the culture of that language which makes them have better cultural awareness. Not only will they better communicate with the locals when they travel, bilingual children tend to have a broader view of the world and are able to better see the perspectives of others.
Multilingual exposure may promote effective communication by enhancing perspective taking. One study showed that bilingual children could better interpret an adult’s intended meaning than monolingual children (2). Bilingual children are better at perspectives taking as it is thought that they need to select which language to use in each context.
4. Better and more career opportunities
In an increasing globalised work setting, knowing a second language will definitely put one in an advantage. In fact, there are many jobs, especially the service sector, that specifically require the workers to be bilingual.
Many companies have international offices and many products are now sold globally. These companies want to hire adaptable employees who can speak other languages and work with people of diverse cultural background. Willie Keng, founder of Willie Keng & Associates Investment Consulting Firm, found overseas internship in L’Oreal China due to his ability to communicate in two languages. This overseas internship stint eventually became one of the main talking points during his interview for a reputable private bank.
The financial returns of learning a foreign language vary by language and job, but they can add up to a lot. An article by The Economist has shown that college graduates who speak two languages make an average of 2% more than those who do not. When compounded, this could add up to more than $67 000 of difference in earnings (3)!
1. Petitto & Dunbar. (2004). Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and Department of Education, Dartmouth College. New findings from Educational Neuroscience on Bilingual Brains, Scientific Brains, and the Educated Mind. Retrieved from http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~dunbarlab/pubpdfs/pettitodunbarIP.pdf
2. Fan, et al (2015). Association for Psychological Science. The Exposure Advantage: Early Exposure to a Multilingual Environment Promotes Effective Communication. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797615574699
3. R.L.G. (2014). The Economist. Johnson: What is a foreign language worth? Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/prospero/2014/03/11/johnson-what-is-a-foreign-language-worth