As face-to-face learning resumes post-Covid pandemic, parents considering a language immersion option for their preschool-aged child often have many questions. One of the most frequent is “Will my child become confused or be able to focus while learning academics in a second or third language, particularly if English is not taught in the classroom?”
Scientists have long known that a young child’s brain possesses a great deal of dexterity. Babies begin to process sounds and voices in utero. Neuroplasticity is at its peak between birth and age 6. Receptive learning begins in infants and young children almost immediately with exposure to a second or third language.
In fact, studies show that the brains of bilinguals tend to work more effectively in comparison to individuals who speak just one language. Bilinguals’ brains may develop a stronger executive control system – a network in the frontal lobe that controls neuro traffic – cultivated by studying more than one language. This brain training happens due to the need to switch between languages in the classroom and in real-life scenarios. As a result, scientific tests have shown that children who are learning two languages develop linguistic dexterity over time, and are generally able to screen out unwanted stimuli better than monolinguals.
The mental competition created by bilingualism or trilingualism helps the brain keep two or more languages separate, while simultaneously keeping them each available and active. In functional MRI scans of test subjects, researchers have observed that the section of the brain that houses the executive control system uses less blood flow in bilinguals. What does this mean? It simply means that this area has become more efficient and is not having to work as hard.
The neuroplasticity created by multilingualism doesn’t just apply to language acquisition. In fact, the effects dovetail with other academic disciplines. Children in immersion programs often show greater aptitude in literacy, numeracy, the arts and even in learning musical instruments or athletics. Research has shown that the executive control system doesn’t fully develop until an adult reaches his or her mid-twenties, and that it is the first area to decline with natural aging. However, strengthening and stimulating the brain through language learning, beginning in infancy or early childhood, is one very effective tool to slow this decline. Human beings are unique as a species in that we are constantly steeped in language. Language is a vital formative tool in daily life, as it often dictates how we communicate, reason and act. With so much evidence pointing to gains from early exposure to languages in an immersion early care or preschool environment, we like to reassure families that choosing LIPP is a no-brainer.