Children’s Brain Development as They Learn More Languages
Children are young aged individuals who experience varied and rapid development. The characteristics of children differ from teenagers or adolescents especially in their way of thinking, understanding, and other cognitive abilities. This stage is crucial since it is the phase when children acquire their ability in thinking completely and this may possibly affect their cognition later in life. Children’s cognition is acquired and developed at their young age. Exposure to and learning languages, especially more than one language, is believed to be an effective way in helping children develop in their cognitive abilities.
Several researches have been conducted to investigate whether learning more than one language significantly affects brain development and cognition. A study conducted by Ferreira, Torres, Garcia, Vasconcellos, Frizzo, & Costa (2018) resulted in the finding that bilingualism has had a positive influence on cognitive development and auditory abilities. They found out that children who spoke more than 1 language performed better in their verbal, spatial and mechanical reasoning abilities, as well as in auditory figure-background ability for verbal sounds. Mastering more than one language obviously enables individuals to communicate in different languages. This supports the argument that bilinguals have better cognitive development and auditory abilities related to the languages they acquired. These abilities help them to recognize the sound better and be able to identify the languages. Moreover, this realisation makes bilingual people respect other languages and predisposes them to be more willing to learn and use the languages. Once an individual acquires first language, followed by a second language, comparison of the languages starts and leads to knowledge and nature of languages.
Since language mastery requires cognitive aspects, scientists and researchers have studied how language acquisition affects brain development especially among monolingual, bilingual and multilingual individuals. Results show that learning more languages does affect the development of the brain structure in terms of complexity in the parts related to language system. Berken, Gracco, & Klein (2016), in their study on children’s brain development, stated that tiny structural changes in the brain are activated during speech which lead to an increase in size and stronger and denser neural connections in the brain structures related to language functions even during childhood.
This change in complexity of bilingual and multilingual children’s brains allows them to learn different languages easily as the brain’s part of language system has been adjusted to it. Thus, introducing and exposing children to different languages that make them bilingual benefits their brain’s cell development and ability in learning languages.
A study conducted by Jones, Green, Grogan, and Pliatsikas (2012) on comparisons between bilinguals’ and monolinguals’ brain activation during language practice showed that 5 left hemisphere regions have been activated higher in bilinguals than in monolinguals. This is because word retrieval is more demanding; articulation of each word is more rehearsed; and speech output needs careful monitoring to avoid errors. Brains of bilinguals, in parts related to speech production, are more sensitive and critical in accepting and delivering information using the languages and are more able to learn new languages quickly. Despite, some challenges faced by children, such as language conflict, code mixing and switching, some other benefits of learning more languages is that it supports children’s critical thinking and problem solving as these skills are developed as they learn new language.
Berken, Gracco, & Klein. (2016). Early bilingualism, language attainment, and brain development. Neuropsychologia (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2016.08.031i
Ferreira, G. Torres, E. Garcia, M. Vasconcellos, S. Frizzo, N. & Costa, M. (2018). The effect of bilingualism on cognitive and auditory abilities in normally hearing adults. Rev. CEFAC. 2018 Jan-Fev; 20(1):21-28.
Jones, Green, Grogan, and Pliatsikas. (2012). Where, When and Why Brain Activation Differs for Bilinguals and Monolinguals during Picture Naming and Reading Aloud. Oxford University Press. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.5