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Bilingual education: Benefits of bilingualism

Bilingual education: Benefits of bilingualism

RN Desk:Bilingual education is generally the method of educating students in two languages. In this system, teachers instruct students in their native language in conjunction with a second language using varying levels of the native and the secondary language, based on the criteria set in the lesson plans and teaching models. Numerous researches and observations have revealed many advantages and benefits that bilingual education offers.

What is bilingual education?

The meaning of bilingual education is not merely the practice of understanding and studying two languages as subjects; it is the incorporation of those languages into the actual teaching process. Bilingual learning means learning science, math, craft and others in two languages. This teaches the application of languages better than any one-on-a-week language learning course.

Outside of particular institutions, the most popular place for children to be introduced to a bilingual community is at home if their parents come from different countries with different native languages. Most families who have emigrated from one nation to another, by necessity, have a bilingual life.

In addition, some countries run bilingual educational systems, most notably French-Canadian or, in a more restricted manner, Welsh and English-language curriculum. In the US, where there is a significant Hispanic population and educators are aggressively implementing dual-language models in some colleges.

Many schools in the Netherlands offer bilingual education in Arabic, Berber, and Turkish, and in Hong Kong, they teach in both Cantonese and English. The difference between learning a language in a fixed course and learning it in an engaging atmosphere is that in the latter one, the students become more thoroughly immersed in the language and its daily uses, preferably from an early age. They develop their skills more naturally than learning from a fixed curriculum, as is the case for most monolingual children.

Benefits of bilingual education

So what are the benefits of bilingualism? How are kids benefited from bilingual education? A large amount of research is being conducted to explore how access to bilingual education influences people as they grow up. As we will see, there are many.

Cognitive advantages

Recent studies are beginning to suggest that if you are open to bilingual education and grow up with higher education in both languages, you are more likely to acquire improved cognitive abilities. While many parents fear that their child will grow up with poor abilities in both languages and will feel overwhelmed, according to the New York Times, the conflict caused by learning two languages at an early age is actually a positive thing: “This intrusion, researchers point out, is not as much a handicap as a veiled blessing. This helps the brain to overcome internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that will improve its cognitive muscles.”
Pre-school students studying in a bilingual environment continue to be more versatile in their cognitive actions and begin to grasp the subtleties of how language functions more profoundly at an early age. This is believed to be one of the reasons that children introduced to bilingual education grow with improved mental acuity early on, acquiring skills to solve difficult mental puzzles. Another research suggests that bilingual students are better at sound processing and are therefore much more likely to pay attention in class, whatever the subject may be.

Cultural benefits

There are, of course, several cultural advantages of bilingual education. Moving between two different worlds means that children come into contact with other traditions and identities. It is especially the case for immigrant families and expatriate groups, where children can grow up with dual cultural identities.

The added level of communication skills and the need to develop a high level of listening skills can also lead to improved social skills that can help bilinguals adapt more easily to different multicultural environments and make them more sensitive to subtle cultural sensitivities.

Financial and career-related advantages

Being able to speak effectively in two or more languages has always been immensely advantageous in all fields, but particularly so in the new “globalised” world that we hear so much about.

The ability to adapt and integrate various cultures is, in itself, a valuable asset for businesses working in many nations, with clients in diverse locations. In these global companies, multilingual employees are likely to be valued more and often paid more. In these big corporations, there are also opportunities to work in their offices around the world, typically an extremely satisfying experience.

Even if the business world is not for them, people with multiple language skills will seldom be out of work. From the creative industries to the humanitarian organizations, employers want staff with inherent sensitivity to cultural patterns, to be confident communicating with a wide range of people, and to have a significant level of communication skills. One can also feel secure in the knowledge that one can always support oneself through translation-related works.

Academic advantages

On average, you would expect those with bilingual education to have higher academic scores than their monolingual peers. A study at Cambridge University adds to the evidence that bilinguals have the edge in cognitive abilities, social interaction, and people skills. This is no wonder, then, that the universities themselves have held the multilingual skills of the students applying for admission in high regard.

Health benefits

Researches on how the cognitive effects of bilingualism contribute to the fight against neurological diseases are gaining pace as well. Researchers in Wales, for example, are looking at how schooling children in both English and Welsh can help prevent dementia and Parkinson’s disease in later life.

Wales is not the only region where bilingualism and long-term mental health studies are of concern. Study in California showed that bilinguals, on average, are more resistant to certain diseases: “… individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism — as calculated by a comparative evaluation of competence in each language — were more resistant than others to the development of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease: the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset.”

Is bilingual education the right option for you or your child?

In many countries, there are huge barriers to the implementation of a bilingual education strategy. If kids are young enough and to some extent, tough enough, bilingual education can clearly be a great opportunity.

However, putting your child in a bilingual atmosphere is by no means a ‘no-brainer.’ For example, if your child is over a certain age, or if they are hesitant or especially shy or disruptive, it can be counter-productive and can drive them beyond their limits.

While many children are extremely adaptable with sponge-like brains that are ready to pick up languages, there might be others who are not quite the same. If they are forced into this environment when they are not adapted to it, it can backfire and be harmful. If this occurs, far from developing the desired superior listening and communication skills or the much-hoped-for academic boost, they will actually continue to lose interest in their education, play in class or avoid listening altogether.

Thus, a teenager who spent his entire school career in a monolingual environment is possibly not the best choice to succeed after a sudden transition to a bilingual one. However, If international schools can welcome monolingual children into bilingual streams in the right age (which should be discussed with teachers), provide the right curriculum to fit your child, and take into account their experience and future aspirations, it could be the best thing you might do to help them create an exciting, intellectually stimulating, socially satisfying life.

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