People's Weekly World Newspaper
Domenico Maceri http://www.pww.org/article/articleview/4606/1/195
Dequwan Well, a first-grader in a dual-language school in San Bernardino,
Calif., said that he “can have more friends” because he can speak two languages.
Dequwan is even smarter than he realizes. Researchers have discovered that being
bilingual may make children “smarter” than monolingual ones.
Laura-Ann Petitto, a researcher at Dartmouth College, stated that “bilingual
children can perform certain cognitive tasks more accurately than monolinguals.”
Petitto and several colleagues compared a group of monolingual children who
spoke only French or English to a group of children who were learning one spoken
language with one signed language. The children in the two groups were matched
in terms of age (4 to 6) but in memory development as well.
The researchers determined that bilingual children far outperformed the
monolingual group in determining whether rapidly-changing computer-generated red
and blue squares appear on the center, right, or left side of the screen.
Traditionally, the idea was that bilingual children’s language development was
slower because of having to deal with the confusion of two languages. Petitto
says that the heightened cognitive skills of bilingual children have to do with
the increased computational demands of having to process two different
The advantages of bilingualism affect the entire education of students. Students
educated in more than one language develop a mental agility that monolinguals
lack. One of these advantages has to do with something researchers call a
“plasticity” of the brain.
Bilingual children recognize that just as there are two ways to say something,
there are also two ways to learn and solve problems. This mental agility is
evident in learning foreign languages. Just as it’s easier for someone who knows
how to play a musical instrument to learn a second and a third one, thus it is
also easier for someone who knows a second language to learn a third, or even a
The Dartmouth study confirms past research done at George Mason University in
Virginia. Researchers in a 14-year study found that kids educated in
dual-language schools outperformed monolingual children on standardized tests.
Students in dual-language schools did better than those in traditional bilingual
education and those educated only in English.
Since bilingualism is a definite plus, one would think that it would be pushed
in our schools as the way to educate our kids and prepare them for the
challenges of a world which is increasingly getting smaller.
To a certain extent, this is indeed happening. There are now 271 dual language
schools nationwide, more than double the number of 1995. Although the most
typical combination is English-Spanish, others involving Asian and European
languages are also available.
These dual-language programs are very popular and waiting lists are very common
in school districts that make them available. Typically, they exist in
communities which have sizeable immigrant populations or in university towns
where multilingual education is highly prized. The federal government provides
funds to implement dual-language programs. San Bernardino schools received
$1,375,000 over five years to implement their dual-language program.
Yet, naysayers exist. Ron Unz, a California software entrepreneur who
spearheaded anti-bilingual education initiatives in California, Arizona, and
Massachusetts, stated that dual-language schools sound like “bilingual
education” with a “different name.” He believes that dual-language programs are
a backdoor to the bilingual education programs he virtually did away with. Unz
tried to eliminate bilingual education in Colorado but he failed because many
parents were concerned that the initiative would also do away with dual-language
programs and deprive their kids of the opportunity to become bilingual.
Colorado’s parents were wise. If your school district does not offer a
dual-language program, contact your school board and request it. It will be a
great investment for your kids but for the rest of the country a well.
This article first appeared in HispanicVista.
Excerpts are reprinted with permission of the author.
Domenico Maceri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.