How learning a second language improves brain development

One of the appealing aspects of the Waldorf Education curriculum is the emphasis on teaching a foreign language at elementary school, and continuing through all the school years. At Waldorf School of Baltimore, Spanish is taught as a foreign language. Señora Pasion, our Spanish teacher, begins working with our rising first grade students towards the end of their kindergarten year (at age 5 or 6), and Spanish studies continue until they graduate from our middle school.

The Waldorf Spanish Teachers Association explains the choice of Spanish:

"Of the approximately seven thousand languages spoken in the world, Spanish has a special place because it is spoken in 21 countries for about 427 million people. Spanish is the second most spoken native language in the world after Mandarin and followed by English. In the US there are about 45 million people who speak Spanish as their first or second language and about 6 million students learning Spanish."

The benefits are strong and long-lasting. Bilingual children, even infants, have more advanced executive functions (cognitive control and supervisory attentional system), compared to monlinguals (published here). Reliable studies, such as the one just mentioned, control for socioeconomic and other variables. Indeed, learning a second language also benefits low-income minority students. These benefits are correlated, in bilinguals, with specific changes in brain activity. And these benefits appear to last for life; For example, learning a second language appears to protect against age related cognitive decline, and perhaps even delays the onset of Alzheimer disease (and see here).

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