Ask anybody why it is a good idea to learn a second language and they will be able to come up with a list of convincing reasons. But, obvious practical reasons aside, how does learning a second language affect cognitive development in general? If a student is struggling, should more core skills be prioritized before adding the challenges of language acquisition?

Experience and research into learning a second language

Based on my experience, and supported by the latest research, I can confidently say that the answer to that question is definitely “No”! I believe that the learning process that is activated by multilingual acquisition, aside from the obvious merits, is actually an integral part of the overall task of improving one’s general learning abilities and honing executive functioning skills. While I have frequently encountered the belief that because of the difficulties involved in learning another language, that it should not be prioritized for those who are already struggling in other areas of their academic development, I find that the opposite is true – that the mental processes and discipline that is fostered are integral to success across the the board. 

There is a good deal of research that has come out in recent years that confirms this. A recent article in Harvard Medicine Magazine provides evidence that the learning of a second (or even a third) language in childhood can change the brain in lasting ways. Neuroimaging technology has demonstrated that people who learn a second language early in life display activation patterns in a structure known as Broca’s area – a region of the frontal lobe associated with language production – that are different from those who have not (Karcz). And social “research in the Boston public schools found that dual-language children … learn English ‘at a pace that you almost never see in monolingual children.’” The author of this study thus concludes “that it is incorrect to conclude that young children have ‘room’ for only one language” (Karcz). 

In Short..

The plasticity of young learners’ brains is “a treasure that should be nourished. Current research, in fact, shows that the greater conscription of resources marshaled in learning and simultaneously managing multiple languages may lead to better executive functioning, impulse control, and problem solving” (Karcz). This is why I so often approach teaching executive functioning skills with an emphasis on learning a second language. Working on language acquisition is an essential component of my process, whether it is the primary focus of the therapy or not. Contact Tila for more information if you feel Educational Therapy is right for you or your child.

Tila Bibliowicz, MA, BCET

Educational therapists in San Francisco California

As a Board Certified Educational Therapist with more than thirty years of experience, I am passionate about helping my clients. Working with clients from across the spectrum – children, adolescents, college students, and adults – academic support is just one aspect of the work we do together. Any attention to success in the realm of educational goals is also best supported by a holistic approach that includes life management and personal organization coaching and communication and advocacy work. Many of my clients experience difficulties with executive functioning, which includes skills related to planning, organizing, and executing.