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Why learning a second language is important

Updated: Feb 16, 2021

Do you know that the vast majority of the world speaks more than one language? If you are from India, knowing a second language (and a third and a fourth even) would have come very naturally to you. We are surrounded by so many different cultures that it's easy for us to do. Unfortunately, I fear that this might be a skill we are losing around the country. So here's to remind us why we need to keep learning those languages.

Firstly, are children's brains better built to learn language? The answer is, 'yes'. If you've tried learning a new language as an adult, you might look back at how you learnt your first language and remember how painless it was the first time. A child's developing brain has an ability called 'plasticity'. It's where the child is forming new brain networks constantly, and it therefore easily learns and networks the code that the new language needs. This is one of the reasons why it is so much better to learn a second language as early as possible.

Learning a second language early in life also means that the child will likely be proficient in both languages, equally.

Learning a second language also appears to have an impact on how much grey matter you have! That's pretty significant. Grey matter is essentially how many cell bodies and connections there are in our brain. It's the mark of a healthy brain.

Speaking more than one language also has benefits on the prefrontal cortex of our brain. This is the part of the brain that controls various aspects of our behaviour like our attention, our judgement and our ability to control our own behaviour.

Bilingual brains are also able to recover faster after any form of injury. This is understandable because the brain has formed more networks than a monolingual brain. We also have evidence that people who know more than one language are able to fight off Alzheimers for longer.

All of these benefits are more obvious when a second language has been learnt earlier on in life. However, learning a new language as an adult also has benefits to the brain. So don't give up on it.

If you want your child to learn a second language, what must you do? As I just told you, start early. Young brains have immense potential when it comes to learning languages - so make the most of it. Second, be patient. A child who is learning two languages simultaneously, can seem somewhat delayed in how much they say. But this is only temporary, while the brain separates the two codes out and processes it. They will soon catch up.

Let your child grow up in a language rich environment. This means that your child needs to hear as much of the two languages as possible. Don't worry if your child gets the two codes mixed up - for example, he uses a Tamil word in an English sentence or makes a new word which is part English and part Tamil. It's a normal part of development.

Finally, don't forget how much the brain can benefit from two languages. Do what you can to give your child this advantage.

If your child is learning English as a second language, don't forget to try our app Brainy English app (by Brainy Bug Resources). The app makes hundreds of words and sentences accessible to even very young children.

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