In a Newsweek article published last week, Casey Schwartz wrote that recent studies prove that teaching children a second language activates parts of their brains that are relatively weaker in single-language speakers.
According to several different studies, command of two or more languages bolsters the ability to focus in the face of distraction, decide between competing alternatives, and disregard irrelevant information. These essential skills are grouped together, known in brain terms as ‘executive function.’ The research suggests they develop ahead of time in bilingual children, and are already evident in kids as young as 3 or 4.
Chicago Public Schools offers several language academies, including the Andrew Jackson Language Academy on Chicago’s West Side, which offers French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese and Spanish classes for students in grades K-8.
The Newsweek article focused primarily on students (and their parents) who are choosing bilingual education — but for some families, a bilingual child is the norm.
For students who grew up speaking a language other than English at home, some form of bilingual education has existed for many years, including English as a Second Language programs which started in the U.S. as early as the mid-19th Century.
But, as the article noted, many parents are now choosing to raise bilingual children, whether to give them a leg up on college applications or to encourage them to be global citizens. While many of their parents had to wait until high school to begin foreign language studies, today’s students can choose to begin Mandarin (or Spanish, or French) lessons as early as kindergarten in many public school systems.