What are the benefits of bilingual education?
Today, Chinese Mandarin and Spanish are the number one and two most spoken languages in the world, and close to 60 percent of the world’s population is bilingual or multilingual.
Even in the United States, which is widely considered to be monolingual, Spanish is the second most spoken language, and Mandarin Chinese is the third. In addition, 20 percent refer to themselves as bilingual, an increase of 140 percent since 1980.
In addition to facilitating cross-cultural communication, speaking more than one language also positively affects cognitive abilities. Researchers have shown that the bilingual brain can have better attention and task-switching capacities than the monolingual brain, thanks to its developed ability to inhibit one language while using another.
Cognitive Consequences of Bilingualism
Recent technological advances have allowed researchers to investigate the brain and how bilingualism interacts with and changes the cognitive and neurological systems. Research has overwhelmingly shown that when a bilingual person uses one language, the other is active at the same time. To maintain the relative balance between two languages, the bilingual brain relies on executive functions, a regulatory system of general cognitive abilities.
Improvements in Learning
Being bilingual can have tangible practical benefits. Bilingual people generally perform better on tasks that require the ability to ignore competing perceptual information and only focus on relevant data, and are better than monolingual people at switching between two tasks.
The improvements in cognitive and sensory processing driven by bilingual experience may help a bilingual person to better process information in the environment, leading to a clearer signal for learning. This kind of improved attention to detail may help explain why bilingual adults learn a third language better than monolingual adults learn a second language.
Speaking a second language, especially Mandarin Chinese or Spanish, has numerous benefits when it comes time to seek employment. Being bilingual provides more job opportunities as more companies, especially those with international offices, are considering bilingualism a high priority.
Many studies and research demonstrate that being bilingual can delay many effects of old age, such as the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, for example. Faster stroke recovery and lower stress levels are some other health benefits of being bilingual.
“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way” said Frank Smith. Being bilingual can allow you to see the world through different cultural lenses. Speaking two different languages can sometimes give people access to two different personalities. Because they have more than one view of the world already, bilingual people tend to be more open-minded to new experiences and less affected by changes in their environment.
At Home in the World
It is, of course, possible to get around in many Spanish and Mandarin Chinese speaking countries without speaking the language. However, you can experience so much more when you can speak the local language. Communicating with the locals and immersing yourself in the language and culture can enrichen and improve your travel experience immeasurably.
More often, bilinguals have an improved ability to express themselves and are accustomed to working out ways to make themselves understood. They are able to make friends in more than one language which means more opportunities to meet new people, and enjoy different hobbies and activities. There is a considerable social advantage that can open up many more doors in life when you are able to communicate with people from other cultures.
Facility for Learning Languages
Learning additional languages is easier for bilinguals than monolinguals because language skills are transferred over and reinforce each other. In fact, we find our students in the Spanish immersion program picking up some Mandarin Chinese and the same holds true for our Mandarin Chinese students learning some Spanish!
Pass It On!
What greater gift than being able to pass on your languages to your own children so they can reap the benefits of being bilingual also! Your children receive the best start in life when raised bilingual from birth and languages can be passed on through generations.
Bilinguals Are the Majority
Bilingualism is not a rare occurrence. Over half the world uses more than one language on a daily basis. In several countries, bilingualism is the norm.
When Deciding Between Mandarin Chinese or Spanish...
Everyone should have the chance to learn a second language and reap the benefits of being bilingual. The benefits of bilingualism listed below are available to bilingual speakers in both Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.
Because the language structure of written and spoken Mandarin Chinese is so different from English, some of the cognitive and learning benefits may be more pronounced. In addition, knowing Mandarin Chinese is an impressive resume builder and career opportunities for Chinese speakers are growing rapidly worldwide.
Knowing Spanish is also great for a resume and for career and business opportunities. Spanish- and English-speaking cultures are interwoven throughout history and into the present, indeed Spanish is the second most spoken language in the United States. Because of this, bilingual Spanish-speakers will have more opportunity to use and so retain their Spanish language ability.
Whichever language you decide, your child will reap many cognitive, cultural, social, personality, and professional benefits that will serve them and your family well for generations.