Most posts I’ve seen reflecting on the past year seem optimistic. And there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. We do know more, and in the bilingualism area in particular there seems to be more awareness of the positive consequences of bilingualism. In aging, bilingualism seems to stave off Alzheimer’s disease. While the reasons for this is not entirely understood, one possibility is that the constantly moving back and forth between two languages enhances the ability to make choices between the two. This practice helps make the brain more efficient. Other theories point to development of more connections in the brain due to bilingualism. These connections form a cognitive reserve that helps to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms.
There are advantages in the marketplace as well. Knowing two languages in an increasingly global economy helps people to compete in an international market. With language knowledge also comes cultural knowledge that also helps to understand other perspectives and customs.
There are also a number of advantages in learning two languages for children. Toddlers for example demonstrate early advantages on executive function tasks, such as paying attention to two sources of information simultaneously (small + apple). Bilingual children seem to have enhanced self-regulation. Babies exposed to two languages can learn and recognize different sounds from BOTH of their languages.
One result I’ve seen of all this is increased recognition that two languages can foster greater cognitive and linguistic advantages for individuals. Outcomes include more bilingual programs for children from early school-age. Everywhere I look I see bilingual programs popping up! There are examples all over the US including: MA, UT, NJ, DC, AK to name just a few. Check them out.