At gray tortuga, we have combed through the latest research and summarized the benefits from learning another language into four key areas: cognitive flexibility, social & emotional development, academic success, and a global mindset. In today’s blog, we explain what cognitive flexibility means and what science says specifically about the improvement in cognitive flexibility by learning more than one language.
Cognitive flexibility has a variety of technical definitions but, at a high level, it is a person’s ability to switch one’s thinking between a variety of concepts. In today’s hyperconnected and information rich world, children benefit from the ability to handle and process a wide variety of information. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly why this happens. Brain scans have shown an increase in gray matter density in bilingual brains which indicates there are more neural connections present.
Research has shown that bilinguals, compared to monolinguals, are better multi-taskers and mental jugglers. They are better at avoiding cognitive biases and making decisions while balancing risk and uncertainty. For example, the egocentric bias is the tendency to give too much weight to personal experiences. Bilinguals are less susceptible to this bias and scientists believe this comes from early sociolinguistic sensitivity and enhanced executive control. For example, if Emma and Piper are working on a class project together, each could think that she contributed more, even if both contributed the same. It is human nature to place more emphasis on individual contributions. Bilingual children are shown to be more aware of others’ contributions and perspectives. If Piper is more aware of Emma’s role in the project she will be better positioned to develop a collaborative relationship with Emma both in and out of the classroom.
Recently, cognitive flexibility has been studied in children as early as 24 months. Bilingual toddlers performed much better on the Stroop task (a measure of executive control) than monolingual toddlers. The bilingual benefit shows up early and lasts until old age when cognitive flexibility is on the decline. Interestingly, bilinguals live 4.1 years longer without dementia. Multilingual education truly is a gift that will impact your children their entire lives.
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founder of gray tortuga, July 23, 2018