Bilingualism: A Skill Best Honed Fast and Early

School in DubaiBilingualism has mostly earned its recognition as a valuable, practically necessary skill. Childhood is the optimal time for one to learn additional languages, but parents who may not be from a bilingual upbringing themselves may hold doubts about the actual benefits of bilingualism. As with most doubts, such are meant to be dispelled — in more than a single language.

If Children Can Handle It

Asia Society’s assistant director for Education Heather Singmaster answers the language immersion questions parents ask her the most. She mentions how parents primarily want to know whether the language immersion method is better for their child’s brain, to which she says a decisive “yes”. Singmaster cites the years of literature demonstrating how bilinguals possess superior executive function – the type that helps an individual solve problems, switch between tasks and recall information.

Another common inquiry Singmaster receives is whether learning multiple languages off the bat would confuse a child. She gives a recent study conducted in Papua New Guinea as an example, where researcher Jared Diamond found out that children experience no confusion in their development as polyglots, learning at least two languages from birth, and growing to speak, read and write upwards of five languages.

Anyone Can Handle It

Singmaster clarified that learning a second language is not by any means an exclusive activity for children. Instructors from the Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai, one of the megacity’s top bilingual institutions, weigh in by mentioning the difficulty for researchers to assign definite merit to the belief that younger brains absorb knowledge better than adult ones. But, they say that if recent studies point anywhere in the right direction, the belief may as well be a physiological fact.

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But, they do tell adults that it is never too late to learn a new language and enjoy the benefits this mental excursion brings. “I do not want to discourage language learning at any age and depending on where you live, high school may be the only option to learn a second language. However, if given the opportunity, start your child young,” Singmaster writes.

Learning more than one language carries benefits a person will draw from throughout their lives. Starting early is crucial, but starting late wouldn’t hurt as well.