More Languages, More Benefits
The Superior Social Skills of Bilinguals by Katherine Kinzler
New York Times, March 13, 2016
At a time when English is rapidly becoming an even more dominant global language and technology offers instant translation applications, questions abound about the necessity and priority of teaching additional languages in schools. Yet as Katherine Kinzler reports, her recent study at Cornell University as well as an important study last year at the University of Chicago both testify to the benefits of multilingualism. Cognitive advantages, including improved executive function, go hand in hand with improved social skills - especially the ability to consider someone else's perspective. Children experiencing multilingual settings "have to think about who speaks which language to whom [and] who understands which content." Furthermore, while the Chicago study shows that multilingual children are better at communication, the Cornell study reveals that the environment where multiple languages are spoken is the key. Experience of the language, rather than strict bilingualism, confers the advantage. As Kinzler summarizes, "Multilingual exposure, it seems, facilitates the basic skills of interpersonal understanding." This short article helpfully overviews the two studies and offers further evidence that our world language programs can and do serve the larger missions of our schools.