6 Potential Brain Benefits Of Bilingual Education

Dec 1, 2016

By Anya Kamenetz

Part of our ongoing series exploring how the U.S. can educate the nearly 5 million students who are learning English.

Brains, brains, brains. One thing we’ve learned at NPR Ed is that people are fascinated by brain research. And yet it can be hard to point to places where our education system is really making use of the latest neuroscience findings.

But there is one happy nexus where research is meeting practice: bilingual education. “In the last 20 years or so, there’s been a virtual explosion of research on bilingualism,” says Judith Kroll, a professor at the University of California, Riverside.

Again and again, researchers have found, “bilingualism is an experience that shapes our brain for a lifetime,” in the words of Gigi Luk, an associate professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

At the same time, one of the hottest trends in public schooling is what’s often called dual-language or two-way immersion programs.


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One comment on “6 Potential Brain Benefits Of Bilingual Education”

  • For many years the US actively encouraged new immigrants to drop their native language. I can imagine how much damage was done to children by well-meaning parents who tried to raise them in a language that was not their own, all in a misguided (but entirely understandable) effort to help them integrate.

    I learnt a second language later in life and struggled mightily to do so. However I have been fascinated to watch my wife’s grand-daughter, now 10 years old and fluently trilingual, switch effortlessly and seamlessly between languages without even stopping to think. She associates different languages to different people to such a degree that, even when I try to speak to her in Spanish she will often reply in English without thinking, because it’s more natural to her when speaking to me. I am in awe at the capacity of the brain, at such an early age to master this complex task so easily. While I battle to remember whether to use the subjunctive or not, she just speaks, naturally and organically, as if it were nothing. I was a little humbled though when she asked one day, “Mom, why does John speak such funny Spanish” 🙂



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