Are you thinking of choosing a bilingual education for your child?

It’s something Sasha and I have thought about with our daughter Mia on several occasions, as we’d like to raise her to be bilingual. We both feel if our daughter can speak both Russian and English fluently, it will help her tremendously at school, socially, culturally and possibly for her career.

That being said, we both know it won’t be easy, particularly when Mia starts school.

Living in the UK, she’ll certainly pick up English quickly once she starts chatting to her friends and listening to teachers. So we have to make sure she’s exposed enough to Russian outside of school hours.

At the moment she’s just turned 2, and she’s basically like a little Russian girl!

She understands English quite well, but almost 95% of her spoken vocabulary is Russian. This is despite living in the UK with an English dad and Russian mum…

…and before you ask, I’m not being a lazy dad as I do talk to her in English every day!

You can read about our approach here.

Long way to go though!

After doing some research online, here are several benefits of opting for a bilingual education for your son or daughter…

1) Better focused attention

Scientists have discover that bilinguals can focus on a particular task better than monolinguals.

Furthermore, one of the surprising features of being bilingual is the ability not to speak one of the languages at a particular moment.

For example, in a bilingual setting, for a child to say “por favor” and then ‘please’, requires a special ability of task switching, and therefore paying greater attention in certain situations.

Apparently this ability of focusing better on tasks even extends to those just learning a foreign language, who are far from fluent.

So it might be worth signing up for an evening French class if you want to improve your performance at work!

2) Better problem solving skills and creative thinking

One such study seems to indicate that bilingual children have better problem-solving skills and creative thinking than pupils who only speak one language.

However, the size of the study is very small, only 121 pupils in total, including 62 bilingual children. The results indicated that bilingual children significantly performed better than monolingual pupils.

benefits of bilingual education in elementary schools | photo

3) Better concentration in class

Another study shows that bilingual pupils can concentrate better in noisy classrooms, something which I think you would agree is rather distracting for the average pupil if they’re trying to follow the guidance of a teacher.

Furthermore, according to another study, bilingual children can apparently process information more quickly. This is partly due to the ability to focus better on a task, as children who can speak 2 languages, can block out the language they don’t need at a particular moment. This switching of languages keeps the brain more active, more of the time, and consequently bilinguals can understand new concepts and ideas quicker than monolinguals

4) Ability to make more rational decisions

Here’s a study which indicates another advantage of being bilingual is the ability to make more rational decisions.

Apparently this is because a bilingual speaker will mull over a decision in both languages, and it can help to make a wiser choice. If you speak just the one language, you’ll likely have an unconscious bias which can influence your decision making.

I personally find this extraordinary.

I know from my experience when I speak Russian I’m a lot more direct than when I speak my native language, because that’s how Russians generally are when they converse with each other. I’m certainly not going to say it affects my decision making, but it is interesting to wonder how far bilingualism can affect the brain.

5) Better reading in English

You would think that being bilingual shouldn’t have an effect on a child’s ability to read in English, but there are a couple of studies which say this isn’t necessarily the case.

According to a study in Portland, Oregon, pupils who spoke two languages were a year ahead of their peers in terms of English-reading skills by the end of middle school.

reading photo

6) Better memory

A study at the University of Granada revealed that bilingual children have a better working memory than monolingual children. In fact, the more complex the task, the better they perform.

7) Helps you learn additional languages

Why stop at two languages?

According to a study at the University of Haifa being bilingual makes it easier to learn a third language, than for students who are only fluent in one language.

This can help to enhance many of the benefits listed here already.

8) It can make you more intelligent

With the added benefits of greater attention and an improved memory, there are various studies which indicate that bilingual are smarter than monolinguals.

These first 8 benefits concern school performance, but there are other advantages too, especially concerning a child’s well-being, culture and their social development

9) Better integration

Speaking a second language fluently can make it easier for children to make friends, especially if you live in a multi-cultural city.

This seems logical as bilingual children are more likely to understand other cultures better, and therefore find it easier to form close relationships with people from different backgrounds.

10) Better communication skills and more empathy

According to one study at the University of Chicago, bilingual children demonstrate more empathy and seem better at communicating with others, than their peers who only speak one language

communication photo

Summary – Benefits of bilingual education in elementary schools?

On the face of it, being bilingual seems to give students a considerable advantage at school. However, it should be noted that some of these studies aren’t wholly conclusive because they involve small numbers of pupils taking part in the research.

Furthermore, if you want to discover some the drawbacks of bilingual education, click here to learn more.

Please comment below if you have any thoughts on this article, or any experience you wish you to share.

For me, it seems that there must be at least something in all these studies to indicate that bilingualism is a factor in helping pupils at school.

Additional Resources

  • https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/13/opinion/sunday/the-superior-social-skills-of-bilinguals.html
  • https://ies.ed.gov/funding/grantsearch/details.asp?ID=1294
  • http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/11/29/497943749/6-potential-brain-benefits-of-bilingual-education
  • http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-19109883
  • https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141112084504.htm
  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/radical-teaching/201211/bilingual-brains-smarter-faster