New report highlights cognitive benefits of bilingual education
- Bilingual children are better able to distinguish between voices speaking different languages and can better recognize voices in comparison to monolingual students, according to a new study conducted by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, indicating that learning multiple languages has additional benefits.
- The study analyzed 22 monolingual English speakers and 19 bilingual speakers. They were tested on identifying whether speakers who spoke English words followed by words in an unfamiliar language were the same speaker, and were asked to match spoken words to characters who had previously spoken different ones.
- Older children performed better than younger children, and bilingual children were better able to discriminate between voices, whether in English or in a language with which they were unfamiliar. Analysts suggested bilingual children may have more experience with accented speech or have better cognitive control and focus.
There is a wide array of research suggesting significant benefits for dual language education in schools, but schools and districts can often find difficulty in funding and recruiting talent to teach such subjects. There are many notable exceptions; last year, New York City announced a significant expansion of its bilingual programs, with nearly $1 million allocated for schools, libraries and teacher and administrator training.
Administrators and educators who hope to procure funding for those kinds of programs can also look to other success stories throughout the country, including in Indiana, where the state’s Department of Education oversaw an expansion of dual language immersion programs in schools last year. The number of schools involved was small, but the program itself is intensive, with 50% of lessons in English and 50% in another language, beginning in kindergarten and continuing throughout elementary school.
One of the selected primary schools instituted a Mandarin dual language program, with the principal saying one of the reasons the school chose the language was because of a large number of local Chinese businesses. Schools may find more success in procuring funding, whether from private or government sources, by tying their dual language initiatives to their local community, and touting it as an initial investment by local or state government that could be recouped with a better-prepared workforce later down the line. In this case, the economics may sell the experience to wary legislators, philanthropists or district leaders.
- NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development Bilingual children are better at recognizing voices