Does Raising Bilingual Children Make Them Smarter ?


Learning simultaneously two languages at very young age develops certain areas of the brain that are different when a second language is acquired later in life in high school or college for example.

The bilingual brain has one large area for processing complex information overlapping both languages while when a second language is learned after 13 years old there are two distinct areas for each language making  information processing  more difficult in the second language. According to recent brain imaging  studies, bilingual brain develops more densely, giving it an advantage in various abilities and skills.

As a parent of a bilingual child I was afraid initially of confusion and mixing the two languages ( in my son’s case French/English). At school we have experienced 100% English curriculum and then speaking, reading, watching movies in French.

We also experienced a true bilingual French/English curriculum with one day in English, one day in French (Atlanta International school) for three years between 4K and 1st Grade.

Then back in a French-speaking country, Belgium, we also chose an international school with 100% English curriculum with extra personalized support focusing on English writing. At home we do everything in French but we don’t teach formal writing, spelling or grammar, however his reading is as good as in English. Other concepts like maths are learned simultaneously without special effort.

I also think that being transferred from New York to Tokyo then Atlanta and to Brussels between birth and age 8 developed his emotional intelligence and communication skills beyond speaking two languages. To adapt the brain needs to make new neuronal connections called “neuroplasticity”, and the younger the child get exposed the more new connections can be made. Being multiculturally literate is also a great advantage of raising children in different cultural environments, I believe more opportunities are offered both on personal and professional levels.

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About Anne Egros, Expat Life, Career & Executive Coach

Zest and Zen is a blog about Expat Life Challenges, Global Leadership, Intercultural Communication, Health and Wellness, Nutrition, Change Psychology, Life Transitions
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11 Responses to Does Raising Bilingual Children Make Them Smarter ?

  1. Pingback: Neuromyths Busting and Education | Anne Egros, Intercultural Executive Coach

  2. Pingback: Living Abroad: In What Language Do You Feel Emotions ? « Anne Egros, Global Executive Coach At Zest and Zen International

  3. Pingback: Life as a Bilingual: Speech Discrimination in Bilingual Infants-Psychology Today « Anne Egros, Global Executive Coach At Zest and Zen International

  4. Say more about emotional intelligence? are you referring to heightened cultural sensitivity and a willingness to suspend judgment? Just curious. 🙂

  5. Dorien says:

    I had to read this post as Paul and I are raising 4 bilingual children. We have done what the experts say and each spoken in our own native language. It works and it certainly is paying off. Our oldest son just entered High School and is the star of his Spanish class, even though his two languages are English and Dutch. The fact is; he understands the mechanics of a language better than his class mates and understand the sentence structure and fine nuances of a new language. He is thriving and is mastering a new language at a much faster rate than his peers. Does it make him smarter? No. Does it help him learn better and faster? Certainly! Great read, great discussions, Anne.

    • Hi Dorien, Congratulations, at least your kids are qualified to become global citizens. If they are not smarter than others, witch I doubt when I read both you and Paul on social media :-), they have a significant competitive advantage in term of getting more exciting working opportunities.

  6. I agree with Kaustav about multi-lingual environments helping children to become more adaptable. When I read of your experience being afraid of confusion, I smiled as I remembered an incident from my own childhood. As young children, my sister and I were exposed to three languages – two at home and a different one at school. So it was not surprising when one day in her excitement to describe something, my then 5 y.o sister used all three languages in the one sentence. What was even more amazing is that everyone understood her! Now, how adaptable is that?

    • H Mi, your sister’s story is not totally weird if you realize that word comprehension remains essentially unchanged, even when all letters of a word are totally mixed up — just so long as the first and last letters are in their proper place. So I think the brain is able to process sounds and visual clues and understand other languages with enough information about the context.

  7. Cindy says:

    To this day I wish I had provided my daughter with the opportunity to learn multiple languages at a young age. I instead chose the path of finding an activity to focus on (which ended up with Dance). I was a young parent and didn’t know where to look for such opportunities. It would be wonderful if more U.S. communities offered inexpensive options for small (pre-school ages) children to learn additional languages. I think in our ever shrinking world it is a skill and ability that all children should have.

    By the way Kaustav, that is amazing! What a future you are providing to your children.

    Cindy

  8. Kaustav Chakravarthy says:

    My kids are 2 and 7. They’re learning six distinct languages since birth without any problem. This happens because we’re in India – my wife and I natively speak completely different languages; we live in a state where the local language is a third, entirely different one; the maid speaks a fourth language, and the kids are now learning English and Hindi at school – and they quite easily switch from one to the other depending on whom they’re speaking with.

    And by the way, this is very ordinary in India. Almost all kids here are brought up speaking three to five different languages.

    I think bringing the kids up in a multi-lingual environment actually makes the kids highly adaptable as they grow up. That’s been my personal experience.

    Kaustav

    • Amazing ! Thanks for sharing. Research also said that at very young age the more languages you learn the easier it is to add a new one. As explained by brain images the brain tissues stimulated when using multiple native languages becomes bigger while later in life different areas are stimulated for each language.

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