The power of bilingualism

The knowledge of a second language is nowadays an important topic. Many scientists and psychologists study how speaking more than one language make children more intelligent and even help adults to prevent dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

 by María Eugenia Fanti

In the past century many educators and researchers considered a second language to be an obstruction with child’s academic and intellectual development. Now, new research shows that it is complete the opposite and that idea is just an ancient myth. Some of those studies that support the importance of raising bilingual children were made in: 2004 by the psychologist Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee from York University [The development of two types of inhibitory control in monolingual and bilingual children (1)] and the other one was made in 2009 by Agnes Kovacs of the International School for Advance Studies in Trieste, Italy [Cognitive gains in 7-month-old bilingual infants (2)]

Both studies demonstrated that bilingual children perform better than monolinguals, because their brains are more efficient in different mental tasks and processes. So as a conclusion it show that bilinguals are smarter.

The Ph. D Barbara Zurer Pearson in her book “Raising Bilingual Child” said: “two days after a baby born, could know the different between two languages. So the early we introduce the other language is better”.

Zurer Pearson also wrote in her book that: “learn another language is easier for children younger than 10 years old, and easiest for those with less than 5 years old if we compere that process with the effort of an adult”.

Most of the experts agree with Zurer Pearson and think the best ages to learn another language are: 1) from newborn to 3 years old, this is the optimal period; 2) from 2 to 7 years old, the child still can learn the second language like a native speaker and 3) 10 to 13 years old, the child can do it well, but he has to translate and use their mother tongue like reference to get the new language”.

Strategies for raising bilingual children

There is not doubt that as parents we have to encourage our children to learn a second and also a third language. This education has to start at home, because unfortunately school is not always as good as it should be in that matter. Some advice for raising bilingual children are:

1)   Decision: decide who is going to talk with the child in your mother tongue at home and stick with the plan. The success depends on consistency.

2)   Read: read good books to your children everyday, use books in Spanish or bilingual. Go to the library; ask your family from your native country to bring them books also.

3)   Movies: let them watch movies in Spanish or in the language you want them to learn. It is very important for children associate the new language not only with familiar activities, but also with fun activities and things that they like.

4)   Play: kids learn by playing, so play a lot with them in your mother tongue. Also, make play dates with other children and families who also want to raise them bilingual.

5)    Sing: children love music and they don’t have problem to listen the same song again and again, so this is a good way to motivate them to listen and repeat the language and at the same time to have fun.

6)   Cultural events: try to go with your children to events that celebrate your origin and your culture. Keep your Spanish traditions awake. That’s a good opportunity for your child to practice the language and for them to know your culture.

7)   Travel: go to your natal country as often as you can, this is a good chance for your children to practice the language. If you can’t do it, receive at home a family member or a friend, who only speak your native language, then for a season your children can practice.

8)   Courses: in Miami there are many good school where the children can take extra lessons and learn another language very well like: Inlingua, English Spot and Shelton Academy at Doral. In others parts of Miami-Dade: Berlitz, Education Francaise Florida, Isabella & Ferdinand Spanish Academy and Talk Kids International who offer Mandarin classes.

9)   Student exchange: this alternative is more for teenagers. There are many organization around the world that offer a student exchange programs, then, teens can travel abroad and live with a guest family for a year. It is very good for them, because they learn another language and know a new culture. Those programs are: AFS USA Intercultural Programs (, ISEP International Student Exchange Program (, among others.

A bright future

The economic crisis increase unemployment, so now in USA more industries have put an award on foreign language skill, so know a second language can help your children secure future jobs.

Also, a recent study of 44 elderly Spanish-English bilinguals made by the neuropsychologist Tamar Gollan of the University of California (3), found out that persons with a higher degree of bilingualism were more resistant than the one who not to dementia and others symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

So after that, what are you waiting for start talking in other languages to your children? Words are knowledge; skills languages represent a bright future for your children. Don’t waste time, start practicing right now: goodbye, adios, salut, chiao.

(1)Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 11 (1), 2008, 81–93  2008 Cambridge University Press.



Photo by Idea Go/ Courtesy of

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