Bilingualism is not a completely new concept. In North America alone, it is estimated that somewhere between 250 to 1000 American Indian Languages existed and were spoken in the 16th century. And in many parts of the world, the rich and wealthy have often studied foreign languages. But not to the extent, of mass bilingualism. The true rise in global bilingualism began at the
beginning of the 21st Century. With mass industrialisation, communication and travel becoming more important and viable in our lives, the need to be independent as nationalities has lessened.
Mass communication along with increasing globalisation, have meant that people now not only need to speak multiple languages for work, they may have to move across the world to make a living. Business sectors such as tourism, technology, international relations, media and science among many others, now require individuals some level of bilingualism in order to study and work with their peers.
And these global needs have been reflected in second or foreign language instruction since the 1970’s. The efforts of academics such as the linguist Noam Chomsky (Second Language Acquisition) or Howard Gardner (Multiple Intelligences) have not only changed the way we teach and learn on a global scale. They have also allowed us to provide effective and functional second language learning and to effectively increase levels of bilingualism on a major scale.
Some interesting facts about Bilingual children today:
- A US Census in 2000 showed that children who speak minority languages are a fast growing segment of US society. More than 9.7 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 speak another language than English as their first language at home (1 in 5 children).
- Somewhere between 60 and 75% of the worlds population is now bilingual.
- The majority of countries now include a t least one second or third language at elementary and high school levels.
- In some countries like the US, there are now as many bilingual children as monolingual children.
- In the 10 years from 1990 to 2000, amount of language minority children in the US rose by 55%, while the amount of children in purely English native speaking homes only grew 11%.
What are the Advantages of Bilingualism?
If bilingualism is increasing on a worldwide scale, it is important to understand the implications of this for our children. Clearly there is a need to teach our children more than one language for their future social, academic, professional and personal future. But what other advantages does being bilingual hold?
As far as general learning and language skills go, bilingual children are certainly at an advantage. Bilingual kids find it easier to learn new vocabulary, rhyme sounds and words, break down language into phonetic parts and categorize language. Bilingual children are more likely to be avid readers and although they may have stronger abilities in one language, will eventually become fluent readers and writers in both languages. Bilingual children on the whole are good listeners, have strong social skills and can empathize and connect with a wide variety of people.
In addition, research has shown that bilingual children have higher levels of executive function than monolingual children. Executive functions are cognitive abilities that allowed us to achieve certain goals. Children who have higher-level executive functions are more capable of skills such as problem solving, reasoning, analyzing and generally have more creative and critical thinking skills. And The most recent research into bilingual brain development and executive functions, suggests that attentive focus and the ability to concentrate, are highly developed in bilingual children.