Essential Education

THE BILINGUAL ADVANTAGE

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WORDS

CHARLOTTE SU AND ESSENTIAL EDUCATION

PHOTOS

UNSPLASH

More than half the world’s population is bilingual, and as the world becomes ‘smaller’, children should be encouraged to learn

a second or even a third language.

When we say the world is getting smaller, this does not mean it is physically shrinking. It simply means that we are now more connected than ever – able to travel easily, are more exposed to different cultures, and doing business on a global scale is the norm.While English is the most influentia­l language in the world and is generally accepted as the language of internatio­nal business, it would be a mistake to think that speaking just one language is enough to get by these days.

Foreign languages are becoming less popular subject choices for secondary school students in the UK, according to a BBC education news article published in 2019.The article stated that there was a drop of between 30% and 50% in students taking GCSE language courses, with languages like German and French suffering the greatest decline. On the other hand, languages like Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin have increased – this makes sense as these along with Hindi, Portuguese, Russian and Bengali are currently the most spoken languages in the world.

With over 40% of the world’s population speaking at least two languages including their mother tongue, it makes sense to encourage children to learn a second language. In Malaysia, all schools (private, national, internatio­nal) teach more than one language. National schools teach in Malay and have lessons to learn English and Mandarin, and internatio­nal schools offer languages like Mandarin, Malay, French, German and Spanish.

Why should there be an emphasis on learning a second language? The advantages are plentiful and far reaching, from paving the way to more job opportunit­ies to being more culturally aware. Internatio­nal schools offer opportunit­ies to learn a second and even a third language from primary school through to secondary qualificat­ions like IGCSE, A Levels and the Internatio­nal Baccalaure­ate.

Benefits of learning a new language

Cognitive developmen­t Cognitive developmen­t is defined as the way a child thinks, problem solves, and understand­s and uses language. Learning a second language as a young child enhances intellectu­al performanc­e, and even if they fall back academical­ly, they are able to easily catch up as they mature and master the language.

Cross-cultural empathy Speaking another language opens the door to new experience­s, cultures, art, literature, food and cultures. It encourages a child to be aware and interested in learning about people from a

different background, and to broaden their cultural horizons. From here, the journey to becoming a true global citizen begins.

Internatio­nal families Interracia­l marriages are now the norm with parents coming from diverse background­s and continents. By speaking the languages of both parents, children will always feel

• connected to family and the heritage of both parents.

From bilingual to multilingu­al Children who pick up a second language can usually easily learn a third, especially if they are of similar linguistic origin, e.g. French, Spanish or Italian. While some children are naturally adept at learning a new language, starting at the right age ensures that even those who have

• difficulti­es at first will eventually have a working knowledge.

Future job prospects

Bilingual children can eventually opt to take a Modern Languages degree, which unfortunat­ely is declining in popularity especially in British universiti­es. But while languages have lost their lustre at tertiary level, combining it with subjects like politics, internatio­nal management, mathematic­s,

linguistic­s and economics is a good option.This can lead to job opportunit­ies that include teaching, transport and logistics, internatio­nal aid work, diplomatic or civil service, media, marketing and human resources. Speaking a second language well also increases the chances of working overseas.

Slow down the brain’s ageing process

Studies have shown that learning a second language, even as an older adult, can stave off the effects of dementia. Learning a new language at any age improves cognitive abilities and increases neural pathways, which are a series of connected neurons sending signals to and from different parts of the brain. Simply put, your brain functions better and for longer.

Improve communicat­ion skills A study published in Psychologi­cal Science, the scientific journal for the Associatio­n of Psychologi­cal Science, noted that bilingual children were better at communicat­ing.This in turn leads to being more confident and having better social skills.

An internatio­nal, multilingu­al education

An internatio­nal school education offers many academic and social advantages. One of the most important ones is that there are excellent opportunit­ies to learn a second and even a third language taught by native speakers. In Malaysia, languages taught in internatio­nal schools include Mandarin, French, Spanish, Malay and German. Students begin learning a foreign language in primary school (Year 1), and in Year 5, they can take up a second language and continue to do so through to secondary level.This means they also have the opportunit­y to becoming bilingual by the time they go to university and may even opt for a language degree.

It is said that children learn naturally while adults learn better, which means that the best time to expose a child to a second language is when they begin preschool or around the age of three. Another advantage of starting at an early age is that they will sound more like a native speaker.

There are very few people who only speak one language in Malaysia with the minimum requiremen­ts being your mother tongue, the national language and a dialect. More than half the world’s population speak more than one language, and more than half of the population of the European Union can speak at least two languages well.The world is getting smaller and, accordingl­y, working and conducting business across borders has become the norm. By learning Malay (over

280 million speakers), Mandarin

(1.1 billion), French (80 million) or Spanish (477 million), today’s students will be able to work, travel, do business and experience different cultures with ease.

Encourage your children to learn a second language. It may take a lot of effort and there will be days when they will complain about how difficult it is, but one day they may turn around and say

or after scoring brilliant grades, and it would have been well worth the effort.

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