Being bilingual is an advantage that many companies are seeking in today's global business world, and it's a skill that many colleges hold in high regard as well. There's a lot to like about what learning a second language does for an individual, and this even goes well beyond the obvious advantages of being able to speak fluently in two languages. Studies show the benefits go into other areas of academics and thinking, to being able to find creative solutions to problems, and even in creating positive changes in the very matter that makes up the brain.
Learning a Second Language Literally Changes Your Brain
This is a recent discovery that can be more thoroughly followed up on because of modern technology like brain scans, and how those tools and that technology just keeps getting better. One of the first things that really jumped out is that bilingual individuals have much denser gray matter in the language section of the brain than those who only speak one language.
What does this mean? Basically, it means that entire area of the mind is not only larger and more expanded, but the overall skills of a person improve in every area that uses that section of the brain. This includes pattern recognition, learning vocabulary and using their own native language, and thinking more analytically than those individuals who have never learned a second language.
In addition to the gray matter, some studies seem to indicate that:
- Bilinguals can focus on two tasks more easily
- They think much more analytically
- The memory section of the brain is larger
- The reasoning section of the brain is larger
- The section of your brain that deals with planning is larger
Considering a language takes four areas of the brain (Auditory Cortex, Broca's Area, Wernicke's Area, Motor Cortex), it should not come as a surprise that so much of the mind can change because of learning another language, but this just scratches the surface.
That's an impressive array of actual brain changes - and all of them are definitely a positive.
Many Benefits to Becoming Bilingual
These benefits of a stronger and larger brain come out in many different ways. Bilingual individuals often have a higher IQ and can multi-task much easier.
For individuals with a history of dementia or Alzheimer's in their family, it is worth noting that those who learn one or more non-native languages also seem to realize a slower progression into the various stages of dementia if they are ever diagnosed. Studies continue to explore why this relationship might exist, but it does go to show how an extremely active brain makes all the difference when it comes to staving off some of the afflictions that can come with old age. Even before old age, your memory tends to improve. A better memory is useful for just about anything, whether in the academic world or the business world. It also doesn't hurt when traveling or simply enjoying life.
Even decision making seems to improve once you learn another language. What more can you ask for?
Learn That Second Language!
The benefits of being bilingual are incredible, and many of these positive changes are the types that will also affect other areas of life. From finding the right career to being able to pick up skills faster and more thoroughly, the mental and physical changes that come with learning a new language can set off a cascade of positive effects for anyone who dedicates themselves to studying and growing as a linguist.
About the Author
Anabela Barros is a professional who runs nacel London, a popular language immersion program offering students opportunities to live abroad and learn English as a second language. To learn more about these exciting programs, visit nacelesl.co.uk
Teaching ESL student to speak English fluently and naturally requires a strong emphasis on phonics. Many of the sounds of the English language are simply not used in other languages, and ESL students can easily confuse many of the sounds, or treat two different sounds as if they are the same.
A prime example of this is the “short e” sound (as in “met”) and the “long a” sound (as in “mate”). To many ESL students, the words “met” and “mate” will sound exactly the same, and this can make it difficult to understand them in casual conversation. (Imagine someone asking over and over, “Do you know Jane?” when they are really talking about someone named “Jen”.)
Students also tend to confuse the “short I” sound (as in “hit”) and the “long e” sound (as in “beef”). This can easily lead to confusion. Imagine someone saying “John beat me!” when he/she really means to say “John bit me!” Or take the more classic example of someone talking about how much they love the “beach”, when it sounds like they are saying something much, much different (and much more inappropriate).
Check out these free, printable lessons, which compare and contrast sounds that may seem similar to ESL learners:
Similarly, it can be difficult for students to master the subtle different between “short e” (as in “bed”) and “short a” as in (“bad”). In my own conversations with ESL students, I’ve gotten stuck several times trying to understand what a student is saying because of this small difference.
And it’s not only vowels that are hard for ESL students to tell apart. Sounds such as “fr” (as in “free”) and “thr” (as in “three”) often sound the same coming out of the mouth of a non-native speaker. Also, if students don’t have a “v” sound in their native language, they will be likely to produce it as “b”, leading to further confusion.
If all of these problems are not addressed in the course of a phonics class, students will end up speaking unintelligible English, regardless of how well they understand the grammar and vocabulary words. You will be struck by sentences such as “Ban has free pats”, when they mean “Ben has three pets”.
To remedy this, it is important to stress these similar sounds in phonics class, giving the students a chance to practice saying these sounds as well as hearing them. This can be the difference between a student who is praised for sounding like a native, and a student who is greeted with furrowed eyebrows and questioning looks.
Most of my experience teaching ESL has been in Asian countries, teaching young kids with very limited knowledge of English. This presents a number of problems in terms of classroom control. On numerous occasions, I have seen red-faced coworkers scolding students.
“Why do you keep doing that when I’ve already asked you several times to cut it out!”
The bewildered student inevitably stares back with wide eyes, full of fear and confusion. I think to myself: This kid doesn’t know what [keep verb-ing] means. He doesn’t know the present perfect phrase ‘I’ve already asked”. He probably doesn’t know the word “several” yet. And there’s no way he understands the separable phrasal verb “cut it out”.
It’s no wonder that teachers such as this find classroom control so difficult.
When teaching beginner students (and here we are generally referring to young, elementary school students), the most effective thing you can do is find ways to make class fun from beginning to end. If your students are constantly begging you to “Play a Game!”, then they are probably bored and need stimulation. However, games should rarely be necessary in class. Instead, all parts of class—from reviewing the lesson in the main textbook, reading a story as a class, and writing assignments, to warm ups at the beginning of class and wrap ups at the end of class—should be constantly injected with lightheartedness and fun. This will keep students engaged, interested, and, most importantly, looking forward to your English class. Here are some tips on how to make this happen.
- Start Strict
Whether it’s your very first class with a new class of students, or simply the start of another day with your regular students, start off by establishing order, making sure all of the students sit calmly, writing names on the board (if applicable), and ensuring that the students know that this is a classroom, not a playground. It is crucial to establish this respectful baseline, as this allows you to create a fun class that will not easily get out of hand.
To many students, writing is an inherently boring and tedious task, and it can therefore be very difficult to inspire ESL students to put pen to paper. Writing is among the most unique and treasured art forms, yet in classroom settings it is often used to punish students for bad behavior.
It is not uncommon for teachers to require students to write 100 repeated sentences as a form of punishment. But this has the potential to quickly turn students off of writing and associate it with negativity. Imagine if a teacher were to punish students by requiring them to draw or paint pictures, or to use other art forms. Students would not even feel that they are being punished, because they instinctively enjoy drawing and painting. It should be the same way with writing, and it is therefore up to teachers to find ways to make writing a fun and rewarding process, rather than a tedious necessity or a punishment for bad behavior.