According to the Summer Institute of Linguistics, approximately two-thirds of children around the world are bilingual. There’s been a huge amount of research on bilingual education over the last two decades, and the results have revealed that there are potential brain benefits of bilingualism.
Gigi Luk, an associate professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, explained that researchers have repeatedly come to the conclusion that bilingualism essentially “is an experience that shapes our brain for a lifetime.”
In schools, bilingual education often goes by the names “dual-language” and “two-way immersion” learning. Most of these classes are designed for English-language learners (ELLs) with a goal of functional bilingualism and biliteracy by the time students reach middle school.
North Carolina, Delaware, New York City, and Oregon are among the growing number of areas that have focused efforts on expanding dual-language programs for students. The growing support of bilingual education is a direct opposition to the “English first” culture that was perpetuated across much of the nation 20 years ago.
NPR reports that those who practice bilingualism are better able to focus on one task for a longer period of time, as well as switch between tasks more easily. In addition, those students are more adept at reading and responding to social cues and tend to be more empathetic.
One of the most significant findings of research on bilingual education is how much the researchers themselves began advocating for dual-language programs. The greatest argument for the benefits of bilingual education lies in the finding that there are no negative findings on the subject.
Researchers are arguing that even if the advantages discovered are minimal, there is no evidence of negative effects.
Despite all of the positive findings of bilingual research, a major challenge still plaguing dual-language programs is locating educators who are qualified to teach them. In light of such challenges, more incentives may need to be provided for educators who specialize in foreign language education.