Benefits Of Languages

Compared to monolinguals, the bilingual children develop greater attention focus, distraction resistance, decision-making judgment and responsiveness to feedback. Children who are multilingual, or are exposed to multilingual environment, excel academically. This exposure to different languages, contributes to greater brain capabilities.

Exercising Their Thinking Brains Early and Often

The leading explanation for this correlation is the need of bilinguals to frequently "select" which language is needed, what words fit the linguistic criteria and how to convey their intended meaning each time they communicate. To do this, the brain must actively evaluate between the competing language systems and deliberately focus attention on the chosen language.

The research interpretation of the fMRI and cognitive tests is that the ongoing evaluation and selection process in bilingual children exercises brain circuits which regulate attention control and block distraction. This neural network activation of the executive functions is one suggested explanation for the higher performance in cognitive tests by children who have had five to ten years of bilingual exposure (Bialystok, 2009; Kaushanskaya & Marian, 2007). Further studies are investigating whether similar benefits are found in children who have exposure to a second language later in life.

Better Memory and Attention

The implications of the bilingual research also relate to the influence of the higher brain's executive functions on working (short-term) memory strength down in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the relay station where new information is first encoded into memory before moving up to the prefrontal cortex for further processing into long-term memory. In the mature brain, the amount of information that can be "held" in mind for active processing in working memory is limited to somewhere between five and nine chunks of data.

In the bilingual children, the higher performance in nonverbal cognition suggests that "holding" information in their working memory also benefits their early and frequent executive function exercise of paying attention to and evaluating language.

Implications for Brighter Starts

The incoming research supports encouraging parents to retain use of their native language in the home. The implications also raise considerations of what other early exposures and in-school experiences can be designed to promote these executive function activations in all children.

Kids Language Arts

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