I'm sure everyone has seen a commercial or heard a discussion on raising kids from a very young age to be bilingual. While many of these DVD and CD sets are marketing and capitalizing on our desire for our kids to be the shining star of their school, they really do have validity. Our brains are wired to best absorb language before the age of 5 and still ready to take on language up until the age of 8. Yet of course we don't start learning a second language until our brains have closed the doors on language absorption! So it's not your fault that you have to hire tutors like me to help with your Spanish classes...it's really the school's fault for not introducing language sooner! More and more families and school systems are finally coming on board though and creating bilingual schools, or at least exposing youngsters to a second language, and I couldn't be happier! Until I end up jobless because all our children have become linguistic geniuses...uh oh.
I feel lucky to have grown up bilingual. I have my mother to thank for that, who insisted I learned a foreign language. I also attribute my passion for travel to my maternal grandfather. He was a top executive at Braniff International Airlines in Argentina and we were fortunate enough to travel for free when we were kids thanks to him. I also look up to my grandmother. She was a world explorer and wanderer herself; she took me and my brother everywhere on her trips.
What my mother didn’t know – and maybe regretted later – was that by insisting on a bilingual education, she was encouraging her daughter to leave her home country.
And that’s exactly what I did. With mastery of the English language, which I learned early in preschool in Argentina, I left home as soon as I became of age. Driving by the domestic airport (“Aeroparque”) as a kid meant freedom. It was a gateway for exotic adventures across distant lands. I always knew I’d be a perfect adventure-goer as I possessed...
While the answer to that question is clearly a matter of debate, one thing that researchers seem to agree on is that bilinguals can outperform their monolingual counterparts on a number of cognitive skills, including the ability to multitask. Furthermore, bilingual brains appear to be healthier and therefore better equipped to cope with diseases such as Alzheimer’s. These are additional benefits to the obvious advantages of being able to navigate between two cultures, and having broader opportunities in this competitive job market.
Ellen Bialystok, a renowned cognitive neuroscientist and Distinguished Research Professor at York University in Toronto, has devoted her career to studying the bilingual brain. She has found that in individuals who are fluent in two languages both languages are always active. Since the “executive center” – the part of the brain that plans and organizes behavior-is constantly deciding which language to use at any given moment. This serves as a form...