Five Little Known Benefits of Learning a Second Language

Knowing a second language is always a good thing, right? But, why?

I once overheard a parent say, “I’m teaching my son Chinese because he will have an advantage”. Yes, that sounds nice, but do you really know about the full scope of bilingual benefits that your child could have in store?
I did some digging and found some interesting and eye-opening facts, backed by research. So, the next time you’re asked, “why do you want ________ [insert child’s name] to speak ____________ [insert target language]”, you’ll have a well-researched comeback. You can thank me later 🙂

Raising a bilingual child…

1. Gives Them Options, Options, & More Options. Whether you’re going to teach your child Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, whatever, the bottom line is it makes them more competitive than their monolingual counterparts. Me, I chose Chinese partly because they own most of our debt and what would make a better future negotiator (or businessman) than one who could speak Mandarin? But, in generally, studies around the world are showing that it pays to be bilingual, like literally! In a recent study, researchers found that bilingual men earn 3.6% more and bilingual women earn 6.6% more than their monolingual (English speaking only) co-workers.[1] I would take an almost 7% raise, wouldn’t you?

2. Makes Math Second Nature (well, almost). The Chinese numbers are easier to count than any other language, you may have heard that before in passing, but let me elaborate a bit on this. For example, in English, we count 11 “eleven” and the word itself has no real numerical meaning, so we’re left memorizing it. But, in Chinese the word for eleven is literally the words “ten” “one”. So, naturally, Chinese speaking kids grow up adding every time they count without even realizing it. And, you guessed it, 12 in Chinese is “ten” ”two”. Adding and subtracting when it is part of your everyday language makes learning math almost second nature.

Not to mention, the Chinese language does not have the words “few” “some” or “those”, instead you have to specify the exact amount. Imagine as an English speaking kid you have to keep track that the word “some” could mean 2, 3, 4, or 7 – who knows exactly, right? But, in Chinese you have to say “5 trucks” instead of “some trucks”. See how math can be easier now?

3. Gives a Comprehension Lift – Across the Board. Chinese is considered to be a tonal language, meaning it has tones that have to be considered to make sure you are saying the correct word.

Look at this picture below.

To us, English speakers, it all is the same right?

Ma, is ma, is ma…

Actually, that’s wrong!

In Chinese (and other tonal languages like Yoruba and Punjabi) the tone you use is critical. See how one word could mean four different things! So, keeping all of those tones straight and being able to differentiate the sound and the meaning immediately is an instant boost to your child’s cognitive abilities like problem solving and abstract thinking. Plus, mastering a second language and its vocabulary has been linked to improving a child’s overall communication comprehension and abilities in reading, writing, and music (Saville-Troike 1984).[2]

And, as an added bonus, children who learn a second language can develop enhanced knowledge of English structure and vocabulary.[3] Now, who said that their English would suffer? Quite the opposite actually…

4. Adds a layer of protection from diseases. Being bilingual goes far beyond landing a better job or being a more efficient abstract thinker, it has a health component too. Experiments with older bilingual speakers have shown that their enhanced mental skills may protect them from problems associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.[5] Talk about a competitive advantage all the way around!

5. Improves Driving Skills. When you speak two or more languages, your brain has been trained to switch between two (or more) systems of communication, writing, and grammar structure. In essence, your child’s brain has become great at multitasking.

So, good that a Pennsylvania State University study found that people who were bilingual made fewer driving errors when performing driving tasks on a simulator. And, researchers at York University uncovered that bilingual adults demonstrated significantly better driving performance when driving and talking on a cellphone.[4] Again, showing that doing two things at once comes too easy to bilingual people.

There you have it! And, these are the little known benefits.

You can do a quick Google search and come up with at least a dozen others. I didn’t have the fortune of learning another language, but when I had my son, I wanted to give him these added language benefits I didn’t get. I picked Chinese, you may choose Spanish or Arabic – it doesn’t really matter, many of these benefits carry over regardless of the language.

Comment below and let me know what language you’re teaching your budding bilingual genius. And, shout out any must-have language resources you can’t live without – I’d love to hear!

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