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Brain Plasticity of Early Childhood Bilingual Children into Adulthood

Adults who grew up speaking two different languages can shift their attention between different tasks quicker than those who pick up a second language later in life, according to latest new study. This is just one of many cognitive benefits of being bilingual at an early age.


Photos: Neo Immersion Montessori students (ages 3-5 years old) learn didactic bilingual materials to enhance learning in English and Mandarin-Chinese languages.



Research has shown that bilingual children are constantly switching between two languages in their brain, which increases “cognitive flexibility,” the ability to switch between thinking about different concepts or multiple concepts at once, and “selective attention abilities,” the mental process of focusing on one task or object at a time.


Other studies have shown that bilingual children can complete mental puzzles quicker and more efficiently than those who only speak one language. Speaking two languages requires “executive functioning,” which are higher-level cognitive skills like planning, decision making, problem solving and organization. Basically, this task is a workout for the brain.


In recent study, bilingual adults participate in an experiment that require watching pictures on a screen that gradually shifted and noting the changes. The adults who started speaking a second language as an infant were able to notice the changes much quicker than those who learned another language later in life.


Bilingual children have high ability to “take advantage of multiple sources of visual information, such as mouth movements, facial expressions, and subtle gestures,” as they grow-up in a more complex language environment, according to Dean D’Souza who is an author and psychology lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University upon a new release.


“Infants from bilingual homes adapt to their more complex language environment by sampling more of their visual environment and placing more weight on novel information,” the study authors wrote.

When children learn a second language at a young age (between 0 and 3 years old), their brains are more plastic, which makes it easier. It’s significant that the mental benefits of starting a new language early appear to last even as children grow into adulthood.


If your child lives in a monolingual family, but are hoping to teach another language, there are common practices to introduce him or her, based on references from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:


Other ways you introduce your child to dual-languages? We are curious to hear from you about your experience. Contact us to share!

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