Reasons why at Agora Sant Cugat International School we place so much importance on multilingual education
If we, at Agora San Cugat International School, had to talk about the main advantage of bringing up a multilingual child, we would have to refer to two facilities: on the one hand, the one acquired in order to look for job opportunities in those areas in which they would like to specialise; on the other, the one which has to do with their adaptation to an increasingly globalised world.
If we were to name another added advantage, it would be the student’s ability to understand the cultural and social diversity of the world around us and the world around them as adults.
But what does it mean to be a multilingual person? The Real Academia Española defines the term as one who “speaks several languages”. Multilingualism researcher Jared Diamond, in an opinion article published in the journal Science, adds: “it is the ability to understand and speak several languages”.
Apart from these benefits, raising a multilingual child has other great advantages that will be reinforced in their academic, emotional and social curriculum. And, knowing all of these, at our school we teach subjects in English, Catalan or Spanish and we give the utmost importance to the use of English and the learning of other foreign languages such as Chinese, French or German. In addition, students have the possibility of taking exams at the school itself to obtain the official qualifications in each of them.
Although, according to researcher Jared Diamond, there are no significant advantages in the cognitive development of monolingual and multilingual children, it is true that the latter have associated benefits that are not found in the former. These statements, which he made in his article published in 2010 in the journal Science, were based on the findings of several scientific studies.
Among others, he mentioned the work of Ágnes Melinda Kovács and Jacques Mehler who, a year earlier (in 2009) published a study in the journal PNAS in which they spoke of the cognitive advantages observed in bilingual babies aged seven months. To carry out the study, the researchers observed babies with parents who spoke to them in different languages and others whose parents spoke to them in the same language. For the experiment, they designed a game in which puppets appeared on different parts of the screen. The most significant difference? The bilingual children were able to anticipate more quickly which side the puppet would appear on. “A child who is born bilingual has to practice paying attention, while the rest of us don’t need to,” say the two authors of the study.
Being multilingual prevents illness in old age
“Bilingualism protects against Alzheimer’s disease”. This is how blunt Ellen Bialystok, professor of psychology at York University, Canada, was when interviewed about the results of a study on the benefits of speaking two or more languages.
After working with 211 Alzheimer’s patients, 102 of whom were bilingual, they found that the symptoms of the disease were 5.1 years later and bilingual patients were diagnosed 4.3 years later than those who spoke only one language. “I would like the study to stop telling parents to use only one language at home because it can confuse the child,” he said in the same interview.
“Suppose you are a Swedish shoemaker who speaks five languages. You could get 25 years of protection against the disease, which means you wouldn’t develop symptoms until you were 102 years old, i.e. you wouldn’t get dementia at all,” notes Jared Diamond in his opinion piece for the journal Science.
According to him, if the brain is not used, it gets old. And being multilingual, effectively, forces the person to make unconscious decisions on a continuous basis, so the organ is constantly being exercised.
A multilingual child will reap rewards in his or her curriculum.
Going a step further, raising a multilingual child will have other benefits for his or her development. These are explained by Anna Solé Mena in her book ‘Multilingual from the cradle‘ (Editorial UOC) based on science:
- They tend to perform significantly better on tasks that do not involve finding the correct answer to a question, but imagining possible answers.
- Their metalinguistic abilities are more advanced than those of children who speak only one language.
- They have greater communicative ability because they perceive situational factors better, enabling them to react more quickly to correct behavioural errors.