10 reasons why your bilingual child has an advantage at school

by | Nov 15, 2017 | Bilingual benefits, Bilingualism, Literacy, School-aged children, When a bilingual / multilingual child goes to school | 5 comments

10 reasons your bilingual child has an advantage at school


10 reasons why your bilingual child has an advantage at school

“Should we drop a language to help our bilingual child do better at school?” is a question parents occasionally ask me when they are concerned about their kids’ educational progress. The answer is a resounding No! Giving up on speaking a home language is not beneficial for children’s success at school – on the contrary, it could lessen your child’s chances to do well.

To substantiate my claim that minority language parents should not drop a language in the false belief that this would be beneficial for their kids’ school progress, I have gathered a list of quotes from research findings, which you can find below (with links to the relevant articles).

  1. Ability to focus

“Children fluent in two languages learn better in noisy classrooms than pupils who speak just one, research suggests.” LINK 

“the bilingual experience may help improve selective attention by enhancing the auditory brainstem response. Bilingual students showed a natural ability to determine which sounds were important, and then focus on relevant sounds while discounting the irrelevant.” LINK

  1. More likely to complete higher education and earn more

“Analyses show significant effects of bilingualism on socioeconomic outcomes: decreasing the odds of dropping out of high school, and increasing occupational status and earnings.” LINK

  1. High levels of mental control

“The bilingual children were more advanced than the monolinguals in the solving of experimental problems requiring high levels of control.” LINK

  1. Arithmetic, problem-solving and creative thinking

“Our study has found that can have demonstrable benefits, not only in language but in arithmetic, problem solving and enabling children to think creatively” LINK  bilingual child

  1. Ability to hypothesize in science

“There is a correlation between language learning and students’ ability to hypothesize in science” LINK 

  1. Language and vocabulary

“In comparing 9-10 year-old bilinguals to English monolinguals on tasks in English, the bilingual skilled readers scored higher on word-reading and spelling tasks than the monolingual skilled readers” LINK 

“We also assessed the children’s vocabulary, not so much for their knowledge of words as their understanding of them. Again, there was a marked difference in the level of detail and richness in description from the bilingual pupils.”  LINK 

  1. Complex spatial tasks

“as well as showing greater proficiency overall, bilinguals were better able to deal with the more complex tasks” and the researchers found “a relationship between some aspects of spatial ability, mental imagery and bilingual language processing.” LINK 

  1. Constant brain work-out

“in a bilingual’s brain both language systems are active even when he is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other. It forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.”

“ not only performed better, but they also did so with less activity in parts of the brain involved in monitoring, indicating that they were more efficient at it.” LINK 

“We like to make a comparison to weightlifting in the gym,” — “A bilingual has to lift more weight than a monolingual when listening to speech. They’ve been working out like this for their entire lives, so they’ve built up strength for managing two languages— so this makes their brains more efficient.” LINK 

“The answer may lie in the fact that we are constantly using language.  Anything that is hard to do is good for the brain: solving math problems, playing chess, playing music.  But engaging in any of those activities employs language because it requires thought. In effect, if you are bilingual, you are thinking twice.” LINK 

“Multilingualism is probably the most natural form of mental exercise” Dr Thomas Bak

“… when performing non-linguistic switching tasks, early bilinguals recruit larger proportions of the left hemisphere brain areas related to language control, such as the left striatum and the left inferior frontal lobe, than do monolinguals” LINK

  1. Better communicators

Bilingual children learn to take others’ perspective into account at an early age. “Multilingual exposure may promote effective communication by enhancing perspective taking.” LINK

“Multilingual exposure, it seems, facilitates the basic skills of interpersonal understanding” so “multilingual children can be better at communication than monolingual children”. “Being raised in an environment in which multiple languages are spoken, rather than being bilingual per se, is the driving factor.” Amazingly, this is an advantage children get just by growing up in a multilingual environment! LINK

  1. More tolerant

“… bilingual kids, especially those who learn another language in the preschool years, are more apt to understand that it’s what one learns, rather than what one is born with, that makes up a person’s psychological attributes.” “Everyday experience in one aspect — language learning — can influence children’s beliefs about a wide range of domains, reducing children’s essentialist biases.” LINK

Another language is not an additional burden

“Bilingual acquisition is as natural as monolingual acquisition and that it is not an additional burden for children in comparison to the challenges that children learning one language face.”

“Simultaneous bilinguals, despite the fact that they have approximately half as much exposure to each language as monolinguals, exhibit the same basic developmental patterns and at approximately the same age as monolingual children.”

“Students who have well developed decoding skills in one language can transfer those skills to the other language. Similarly, students with well-developed skills for reading longer material, like stories and academic textbooks, can transfer those skills to another language, provided they know the oral form of that language.”


Children with speech and language impairment (SLI)

“… bilingual children with speech-language impairment do not acquire language more slowly than monolingual children with speech- language impairment. Rather, they will show the same patterns of impairment in both languages.”


Advantage of the home language

“… maintaining a home language has no adverse effect at all on children’s proficiency in English” on the contrary, “pupils of minority and immigrant background who scored high on the proficiency test for their home language also showed high scores for English proficiency.” LINK 

Instead of dropping a home language, researchers have found that “bilingual children need continuous and regular exposure to both languages to ensure their complete acquisition” and that “discontinues, abrupt changes, and/or irregular exposure should consciously be avoided”

“Parents who do not speak the majority language should be encouraged to continue to use the home language with their children and, in particular, they should be encouraged to use the home language to help their children develop foundation skills related to literacy and academic language competence.”


Dear parents, please continue speaking your home languages!

Dear educators, please encourage the parents of your pupils to maintain their home languages!

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  1. Veronica Mitchell

    Thank you for sharing this. Just in time! I am planning to get a French tutor for my children so they can learn a second language at home.

  2. Addy Brown

    Developing your child’s self-confidence is extremely important. Studies have proven that bilingual children have more self-confidence. In fact, scientists from the University of Windsor found that people who speak more than one language had higher levels of self-esteem compared to monolinguals or those who only speak one language.

  3. clio

    Dear Rita, thank you for this interesting post! Our kids are now learning their 3rd language and it’s true that it raised some doubts about the burden we were putting on our children. But the truth is, they’re actually showing so much more flexibility and understanding of different cultures because of this! For them, it is normal to question which language a person speaks when they meet somebody new. And they don’t indentify themselves with the country they come from, but with the languages they can speak. I find this very promising for a future where we’ll all be more open towards each-others. Thank you for sharing these important values with your readers!

  4. Andy8

    Thanks os much for this.

  5. Mayce Hye

    Bilingual child is more self confident. They have the high level of control for solving the experimental problems and also have many advantages at school. Nice blog post.
    Keep it up…


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