Divergent Thinking and Learning
Imagine your child's brain as a mysterious machine processing neurons, or brain cells. "It is during the first two years of a child's life that the number of pathways, or synapses, stitching these neurons together explodes, boosting the size of his brain while weaving an intricate neural net that establishes a foundation for learning."  Christine Galbreath Jernigan 10:33, 9 January 2006 (MST)
There are the divergent-thinking advantages of course. Learning two languages early on help children to see that there is more than one way of saying something. This leads them to better understand there is more than one way to look at a problem and more than one solution. Bilingual children, therefore, tend to be more creative in their problem solving according to McGill University Professor Lambert. In his paper "Effects of Bilingualism on the Individual” (New York Academic Press, 1974), he finds they “reflect a richer imagination and an ability to scan rapidly a host of possible solutions.” CGJ 10:33, 9 January 2006 (MST)
And the flexibility shown by early bilingualism has been examined. Researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland used MRI techniques and compared the language processing of early and late bilinguals with similar results. Early bilinguals who had acquired their language before three were found to use less widely dispersed areas in the brains for language processing than late bilinguals who had acquired their 2nd language after the age of nine.” Researchers also compared the processing by early and late bilinguals of third language learned as teenagers or adults. Early bilinguals were found to be using some of the same areas of the brain for aspects of language processing in their third languages as they did for their first two languages. The late bilinguals again used a more widely dispersed area. In other words, the language processing systems of the early bilinguals were apparently flexible enough to be used for some functions of a third language learned later in life”  Notice the difference between a child growing up bilingual and an adult who learned later in life: when they switch from one language to another there is a definite difference in the lag time between languages. Imagine the implications of speed of access when no "click over" from one language to another is necessary. Adult learners of a second language take extra time to move between/among languages perhaps because they do not have this flexibility to access the same part of their brain for other language use. It is important that facility with this switch from one language to another is possible for learners who have missed the pre-adolescent critical period, though this stance is often disputed. CGJ 07:25, 8 September 2006 (MST)
Research has shown that bilingual children read earlier and show higher standardardized test scores, even in areas thought of as unrelated to languages, such as math. It has also been shown that children who know more than one language pick up social cues better than monolinguals and tend to respond better to being corrected by others and taking guidance from others. Baker’s “A Parent's and Teacher's Guide to Bilingualism” (Multilingual Matters Ltd, 2000), finds that bilinguals are also better at using new vocabulary even in their own first language because by knowing there are two words for everything, children pay more attention to words’ meanings and tend to use even words in English more accurately.
Diane Ackerman, author of “An alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain” notes, “A bonus of bilingualism is that it forces a child to favor one set of rules while ignoring another, and that trains the brain early on to focus on discriminate, to ignore what’s irrelevant and discover the arbitrariness of words.” . CGJ 10:36, 3 January 2006 (MST)
- Owens, D. E. (2000). Starting early to become bilingual, Orlando Sentinel. North Jersey Media Group Inc: Sunday, November 19, 2000.
- Myles, C. (2003). "Raising Bilingual Children," Los Angeles, CA, Parent's Guide Press., p. 75
- Ackerman, D. (2004). An alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain, Scribner Book Company, p 8.