Friday, December 14, 2012

An innovative solution to America’s failure to develop bilingual students

My recent attendance at the Global Forum in Prague, made it abundantly clear that technological development, ease of transportation and communication, and more have all led to the creation of today’s interdependent global community.

As I moved throughout the forum I could hear hundreds of educators from around the world speaking English with various accents. What was disappointing, was most of the Americans could only speak one language despite the foreign language requirements we all have in America schools and colleges. Unfortunately American schools still have not got the memo that the way we teach language is quite simply a failure.  

We know how important it is for today’s generation to learn the necessary skills to prosper in the current climate; such as a greater understanding of cultural differences and bi-lingual abilities yet we fail to prepare children in this country with those skills.  

Here are 4 benefits to being bilingual:

  1. Improved Cognitive Skills: Being bilingual keeps the brain active and alert, which studies have shown allows bilingual children to prevail in problem solving scenarios, both in speed and success rates, which are developed further as bilingualism is enhanced. It is important that children develop an understanding of both Eastern and Western cultures; allowing them to develop into bilingual, global-minded, competitive, appreciating and caring global citizens, an important trait in the growing global community, of which bilingualism aids. 
  2. Researchers’ from York University discovered that individuals’ who are fluent in more than one language tend to have quicker response rates than those who only speak one, as well as heightened concentration, and an improved ability to switch between tasks than their counterparts. Being bilingual is also known to open up extensive job opportunities in a competitive and increasingly multicultural economy, in which multilingual/multinational organizations have a better competitive edge than monolingual ones.
  3. Improved Literacy: Further studies from York University have proven that bilingual individuals have a deeper understanding of the structure of language, important for literacy. Bilingual individuals tend to possess denser grey matter than their monolingual counterparts. Grey matter is responsible for dictating intelligence, particularly in terms of processing language, dictating attention spans, and establishing and storing memories; which in turn has seen direct correlation between bilingualism and increased test scores.
  4. Improved Creativity: Bilingualism is also proven to develop ‘outside-the-box’ thinking necessary for acute problem solving. Learning a new language at any life stage has proven beneficial to those pursuing a creative careers or hobbies. Research has shown that being creative alters our mood, self-esteem and socialization; thus, being bilingual not only has neurological advantages, but physiological.  
    Such physiological and cognitive enhancements’ have also shown health benefits in later life, for instance; bilingual individuals who suffer from Alzheimer’s take twice as long to develop symptoms. It is understood that there is a direct correlation between language development and delayed dementia. This phenomenon is thought to occur as a result of the multilingual minds ability to strengthen itself by switching between tongues, thus bolstering brain function overall.
  5. Global Mindedness:
    The benefits of bilingualism extend beyond the obvious linguistic elements. It allows individuals to enjoy bi-cultural advantages i.e. bilingual individuals are subjected to elements of different cultures. When learning a second language an individual is also developing their understanding of cultural differences’. Learning to accept, understand and appreciate the differences between cultural values helps to create global minded citizens suited for the global, multicultural society.

An innovative solution: Leave the U.S.
Many major cities around the world, are seeing a large increase in the amount of expatriates’ relocating their families. This provides expatriate children with unique opportunity to benefit from learning the language of the local country.

International Schools located globally offer the ability to learn the local language along with English. For example, in China there are several good international schools in the Beijing and Shanghai districts. The Yew Chung International School, with campuses in Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Qingdao and Hong Kong is one in particular that is well known for its Chinese curriculum where they encompass a global outlook on education, as well as endorsing a strong focus on bilingual education.

It’s a little out-of-the-box, but if you’re an innovative educator, going international might be a great option, not only for you, but for your children.  To learn more about attending Yew Chung International School of Beijing visit their website or email Visit this page to learn more about working at a school like this.


  1. I love this post. So many Americans believe the only worthwhile language is English. Who knows where our children may end up! They may need to know more than 1 langauge! In my experience, one of the best ways to improve literacy and writing is learning another langauge. Our students who struggle with literacy may benefit from becoming bilingual. Loved the "outside of the box" thinking. It moves education forward! Awesome post!

  2. It is an ongoing struggle to maintain support for world language learning. Many schools have lessened or dropped the language requirements. In fact, here in California, many colleges only require one (1) semester of a second language. Many of the online language classes I have seen use turn-key publisher materials in an independent study format that simply gets students past a requirement. I've been developing and teaching online and blended/hybrid college Spanish classes for several years using social media to make them communicative and engaging, but there is no funding for this kind of work, nor is there any funding for our foreign language department. Alas, learning more than one language is a low priority in the traditional education plan. It is a shame because foreign language classes are the easiest courses for cross-disciplinary activities (like with Multimedia, etc.)