Exposing your child to foreign language learning seems to be the dream of most parents. However, the implementation sounds rather unnerving and disconcerting, especially in our Ghanaian context where foreign language learning seems distant. It is possible you have not considered its short and long-term effects on your child’s holistic development. Let’s now examine critically what a new language does to the child’s brain.
The skill a child acquires in the process of language learning, particularly in a bilingual or multilingual context cannot be overemphasized. A child in such a context engages their brain in a wide range of processes such as distinguishing various sounds in the various languages, learning a bulk of vocabulary and structures, listening critically to decipher which language is being spoken at a given time in order to respond accordingly, etc. Careful consideration of these processes shows how the brain is intricately engaged, thus building the cognitive capacity of the child which eventually reflects in all areas of learning the child is involved in. According to Viorica Marian, Ph.D. and Anthony Shook, “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.” A recent study by Dr. Thomas Bak shows that, “young adults proficient in two languages performed better on attention tests and had better concentration than those who spoke only one language.” (Viorica Marian)
Before any exchange of goods and services for value can take place, there has to be communication; Negotiation, spelling out of terms, contracts, clarifications, all these fundamentals require the use of language. Business is complex even between two people who understand each other, consider how much more complex it would be between two people who don’t. All these beg the question, what is ECOWAS doing about getting West Africans to speak to each other and understand each other, Anglophone countries have French in their curricula and Francophone countries have English in their curricula but as I have shown in my previous blog, people are not actually getting to a level of proficiency that allows them to hold basic conversations, practically it is next to useless what is being done in schools
When a child is exposed to learning a foreign language, what they are actually exposed to is a new culture, a new language structure, a whole new world of ideologies and philosophies. Not only that, their brain develops better in terms of adapting to diverse situations since the brain is used to/ exposed to switching from one language to the other.
Everyone dreads the frailty and chronic diseases that come with old age but foreign language learning can actually help allay your fears when it comes to those that afflict the brain at this stage of life. In a study by Dr. Thomas Bak, 853 participants were tested in 1947 when they were all 11 years old. In their early 70s, they were all retested in 2008 and 2010. The results revealed that the bilinguals performed better than expected. It was observed that general intelligence and reading levels were high. Research points to an average five-year delay to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in bilinguals compared to their monolingual counterparts.
Beyond the general benefits of a better functioning brain, acquiring fluency in a foreign language holds enormous opportunities for your child. Find out in the next post.