Question

Children's Learning & Development

We speak both English and Mandarin to our child interchangeably. Should we just stick to one?

What the Expert Says

By Brian Caswell

Dean of Research and Program Development at MindChamps

Internationally-acclaimed author of more than 300 books, mainly of which have won literary awards

Established speaker and literacy consultant

Research shows that young children are experiential learners, and progress at their own pace through activities to promote cognitive development naturally in a fun and engaging environment. In my view, bilingual and native tongue environments offer major advantages to pre-schoolers as they develop their language and thinking skills and help prepare them for Primary School.

Infant Exposed to 2 Languages are Better Learners

In fact, in a recent long-term birth cohort study conducted from 2011 to 2014 involving Singaporean mothers and their offspring called GUSTO, it was found that 6-month old infants spoken to in two languages show better learning and memory than infants exposed to one language. The study also found that there was a generalised cognitive advantage that emerges early in bilingual infants, and is not specific to a particular language. This was conducted by A*STAR, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) and the National University Hospital (NUH).

Another study from York University in Toronto, Canada (a bilingual country), also suggests that exposure to two languages may actually give toddlers a cognitive advantage over young children who use only one language. It shows that bilingual children:

  • Are more likely to apply ‘selective attention’ – that is, to focus on the important task and be less likely to become distracted.
  • Show ‘cognitive flexibility’ – that is, changing responses according to the demands of the situation

In essence, you can play a part in helping your child achieve the bilingual advantage. Starting school with a significant cognitive advantage in ‘executive functioning’ can have an important impact on both their academic and social future.

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