World Wonder

Inspiring Global Citizenship

Brain Booster!

on September 5, 2014
sign in multiple languages

Language exploration at the Exploratorium (San Francisco)

Two things inspired me recently. A recent visit to the Exploratorium and my daughter’s first week in Spanish immersion. At the Exploratorium I noticed how they have done a beautiful job of integrating global languages into the descriptions of various exhibits. By providing information in multiple languages, the Exploratorium has created a space of exploration in a global context that is accessible to a multitude of communities and cultures.

I also got inspired watching my daughter in Spanish immersion for the first time. I have been fascinated by her progress in just one week. I can tell her brain is being challenged in a good way, you can almost see the sparks flying!  I keep thinking, how can this be a bad thing? She’s learning something new every day and building a skill that she will most likely take with her the rest of her life. It makes me wonder why we don’t encourage more foreign language exploration and instruction in our schools. This inspired me to look at the research. And what I found is that learning a foreign language can actually boost your brain. Bilingualism is good for you. It makes brains stronger. It is brain exercise.

According to a NY Times article published in 2011, bilingual individuals have a more efficient executive control system in their brains. This basically means that bilinguals can often multi-task and focus easier when faced with multiple distractions. Research has also shown that bilingualism can help forestall the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the article, “Bilingual older adults performed better than monolingual older adults on executive control tasks. On average, the bilinguals showed Alzheimer’s symptoms five or six years later than those who spoke only one language. This didn’t mean that the bilinguals didn’t have Alzheimer’s. It meant that as the disease took root in their brains, they were able to continue functioning at a higher level. They could cope with the disease for longer.”

Supporters of bilingual education often site the following statistics:

  • By 2030 China will be the largest economy and will grow to 20% larger than the US economy by 2050.
  • In a recent survey, some 40 percent of companies reported that their international sales were growing more rapidly than their domestic sales, and more than 60 percent expected this trend to increase over the next 10 years.
  • Over the next 40 years 60% of the G20 economic growth will come from Brazil, China, India, Russia and Mexico alone.
  • By 2050 25 percent of US residents will be Latino.

Proficiency in foreign languages and an understanding of other cultures used to be “nice-to-haves” but these have really become essential skills in the twenty-first century. To quote Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, “We must improve language learning and international education at all levels if our nation is to continue to lead in the global economy.”

How can you encourage young people to explore foreign languages?

  • Visit your local library and check out CDs, DVDs, and books in foreign languages. Expose children and youth to various languages and make it fun!
  • Build foreign language learning into your daily routine. Create vocabulary lessons during your walk to school, at the park, dinner time, bath time, or during play time.
  • Visit local restaurants or stores where foreign languages are used on the menus, products or by staff and have your child listen and observe.
  • Encourage language exchange between young people. It’s an awesome feeling to be understood in a foreign language!

More ideas can be found by checking out these additional learning resources:

Ideas, comments or resources to share?  Contact World Wonder today!


One response to “Brain Booster!

  1. fran cohen says:

    good information and it’s so exciting to witness the beginning of a child’s education and to see the ‘sparks’ from her brain! love you


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