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Why you should encourage your kids to be bilingual

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It's not just about work opportunities ...

The human brain is, even today, one of the great enigmas of science. Scientists are always seeking to learn not only which parts of the brain control which actions, but also how to get a jump on the appearance of disorders such as Alzheimer’s.

In recent years, one of the areas that’s attracted the most interest for researchers is the learning and mastering of language — and more specifically, how a bilingual brain is capable of working with the same effectiveness in two different languages.

Studies like those carried out by the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington show that it’s easier for children 7 years old or younger to learn two languages and to have the same fluency in both. One of the researchers, Andrew N. Meltzoff, says that from the ages of 8 to 18 learning becomes “more academic and slower” and it becomes more difficult to speak a second language with the same naturalness as our mother tongue.

In the U.S., 18 percent of the population is bilingual in English and another language, and this percentage increases every year. The fact that societies are becoming more and more diverse is leading to more studies about the workings of the brains of people who, from their infancy, can converse, think, and carry out complex tasks in two different languages — although the first one they learn, their mother tongue, will always have a certain priority.

The psychology department of the University of California, Los Angeles has carried out various experiments with babies of several months of life immersed in bilingual environments. The intention was to determine if their brains processed their environment differently, studying the way the children reacted to visual stimuli. Bilingual babies were shown to have a greater capacity to concentrate on a task and ignore the noise and distractions around them.

The main difference between a monolingual brain and a bilingual one is in the ability to make decisions. It’s not that bilingual people are more intelligent than monolingual people; rather, they develop a different set of abilities. For example, bilinguals develop cognitive abilities that allow them to adapt to changes in the tasks they are performing. This is because their brain is constantly choosing the language in which it is expressing itself, which gives it much greater flexibility, allowing bilinguals to concentrate and memorize better.

So what does this mean for you and any children you have, practically speaking?

First of all, if you’re an immigrant or come from a bilingual background, be sure your children learn not only the language most spoken where you live, but also the language of their family background. If you live in a country like Canada, for example, which has two official languages, take whatever steps you can to help your children learn both languages spoken in your country or region. It may sound like an imposing task, but people in many countries learn two or more languages as a matter of course, and none of them die from the effort!

Making the effort now may have both short- and long-term benefits for your child’s future. And although it’s easier to learn a second language when you’re younger, it’s still very possible later on in life, You can reap great benefits. What are you waiting for? ¡Vámonos!

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