The Benefits of Learning Two Languages

Make Way for Books supports literacy in multiple languages through all of our programs because of the important effects of a bilingual education. At Make Way for Books, we like to tell parents to read to their children in the same language they use to say, “I love you.”


The latest research suggests that learning in two languages gives a child many advantages. From a young age a bilingual education can improve executive function, social and emotional skills, and reading and math skills.


Improved Executive Function

For bilingual children to successfully speak two languages they must be able to switch between those languages. This ability to switch which language is being spoken and to speak the right language at the right time is one way that bilingualism is thought to improve executive function in children.

Executive function encompasses many skills including attention, inhibition, and switching between tasks. People who speak two languages tend to do better than those who speak only one language when tested on tasks that rely on these skills. These differences in executive function abilities have been found in children as young as toddlers. Even your child’s first years are an important time to introduce them to a second language! Check out our recent blog post on executive function to learn more about these important skills!


Setting a Foundation for Social and Emotional Skills

Being able to speak a second language has also been found to improve a child’s social and emotional skills. Researchers think that this is because someone who speaks two languages may require an increased sensitivity to social cues.

Bilingual preschoolers perform better in Theory of Mind tasks specifically. These tasks indicate a child’s ability to recognize that someone else may hold thoughts and beliefs different than their own – a necessary foundation for many social and emotional skills.


Improving Reading and Math Skills in English

It is a common misconception that speaking a second language at home can harm a child’s ability to learn English at school. Current research shows that even during preschool, knowing another language can improve reading and math skills in English – without negative consequences.

A study conducted on Spanish-speaking preschoolers in English-dominant classrooms found that students with high-level Spanish reading and math ability showed improved skills in English as well. It is beneficial for children to learn these concepts in any language because basic literacy and math skills can be applied across languages.


* Sources

Farhadian et al. 2010. “Theory of Mind in Bilingual and Monolingual Preschool Children.” Journal of Psychology. 1(1): 39-46.

Kamenetz, Anya. “6 Potential Brain Benefits of Bilingual Education.” nprED. November 29, 2016.

Poulin-Dubois, D et al. 2011. “The effects of bilingualism on toddlers’ executive functioning.” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 108(3): 567-579.

Tankard Carnock, Janie. “Why You Shouldn’t Stop Speaking Spanish at Home”. Education Post. September 14, 2016.