Languages, French Immersion and Brain Development

Our son Elijah will be starting kindergarten in September and the options presented to us with respect to elementary school are simple: English or French Immersion.  After thinking carefully (and discussing all possible sides of the question), my husband and I have decided to enrol him in a public French immersion school.  Personally, I am happy with the decision because I have always been very interested in languages, and really want my son to be bilingual.  But, I have to admit that I am also nervous because I have heard that immersion programs are not always well-designed and ineffective. 

I speak English, French and Spanish and am capable of reading Italian, so languages are important for me.  If I would have more time, I would love to learn other languages, especially Chinese.  Having said this, I have not been very good teaching my son Spanish (or French); even though I believe that young children are the best second language learners.  Many studies have demonstrated the benefits of second language learning not only on a child’s linguistic abilities, but on his/her cognitive and creative abilities as well.  Children who learn a foreign language beginning in early childhood demonstrate certain cognitive advantages over children who do not.  The advantage for younger learners is that they have the ability to mimic closely the native pronunciation and intonation of a new language (so, no accent!).  In addition, literacy skills that are being developed in the native language transfer to the learning of the new language.  According to a research article entitled “The Bilingual Advantage in Novel Word Learning,” published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review”, bilingual speakers excel over monolingual speakers in word recognition and recall.  Other benefits of learning another language are the improved ability to focus on two tasks at once.  It appears that bilingual kids think more analytically because parts of their brain dedicated to memory, reasoning and planning are larger than those of monolinguals. For these reasons, several research studies have shown academic gains by students who have begun learning another language at an early age. 

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