Most of us have heard that learning a second language in early childhood is a benefit to kids. The concerns about confusing children or delaying language too much in toddlerhood are largely debunked, and lots of parents are encouraged to expose babies to another language early and consistently.
Last week, a study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology confirmed that not only are babies capable of absorbing multiple languages without skipping a beat, but that it may give them a boost in other skills as well.
In fact, it gives them an edge in one of the most important thinking skills our kids develop – one that rivals IQ in determining success:
The researchers tested bilingual toddlers age 24 months to assess their vocabulary level. They scored equally well on vocabulary tests in both languages, suggesting that they were equally familiar and competent in both languages by 2 years old. The researchers didn’t report whether vocabulary was equal between monolingual and bilingual kids, however (some suggest bilingual kids experience a slight delay in producing speech that will eventually resolve).
But the bigger point was the the bilingual two-year-olds had better ability to pay attention, focus on a task, and not get distracted. This is thought to be because they practice switching from one language to another, which requires shifting attention and filtering information.
This is far from being the first study to suggest kids learning two languages have an edge in cognitive control (otherwise knows as a form of executive function). Earlier studies have shown this to be true. In fact, retrospective have seen that later in life, dementia may be delayed by years in people who spoke two languages growing up.
Language learning really is a workout for the brain — one with far-reaching implications.