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Bilingual kids better at math, reading?

Research shows new benefits to growing up speaking two languages.

By Pamela Sitt Feb 22, 2013 3:26PM

As if I needed another reason for mommy guilt, along comes a report that bilingual kids are better at, among other things, math.

If math skills are hereditary, my 18-month-old daughter is going to need all the help she can get. So maybe I should have listened to my nanny when she encouraged me last year to start speaking Korean, my sort-of second language, around the house.

The cognitive benefits of bilingualism have been well documented, but new research shows that it also has a positive impact on working memory, which aids math and reading comprehension.

According to information published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology:

The study included children aged between 5 and 7 years. Researchers found that bilingual children consistently performed better at tasks that need working memory. Also, the more complex the task was, the better bilinguals performed. People with good working memory have higher self-control and ability to keep distractions away.

Speaking of distractions, the fact that I grew up speaking two languages is not making it easier to write this blog with a toddler demanding my attention every five minutes. But it’s not too late for said toddler – research shows kids can reap the benefits of bilingualism if they are speaking two languages daily by age 10.

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Feb 22, 2013 5:20PM
Interesting how the bigotry and stereotyping seeps out through the postings, The article says nothing about Asians, but several postings ASSUME that the cognitive performance difference refers to Asian children [because of stereotype that Asian students are better students]. Also, monolingual cultural bias [ prevalent in US] rejects the notion that bilingualism can in fact predict higher cognitive function. Actual research referred to by the article is not, in fact, confined to Asians and shows the relationship in other languages. 

The argument about  whether causality has been shown is irrelevant. What the research suggests is that the linguistic and ethnic bias of US schools that impose monolingual "English Only" instruction may well be a disservice to our children. That is an idea that is frightening to bigots and ideologues who believe that there is something wrong or "un-American" about speaking more than one language. Since children in the global society  in which the US wishes to compete learn to speak multiple languages as an increasingly common educational practice. It is time to shed the ethnic and linguistic bias and catch up to the rest of the world. 
Feb 22, 2013 4:49PM
i do not speak a secondary language but i am hellishly lightning-fast numerically, in my head of course. it's a skill developed like any other -- practice.
Feb 22, 2013 4:59PM
I don't know about this: not only do I speak 6 languages fluently of which 3 are my mother tongues, my daughter is also multilingual. We're terrible at Maths. Also, I'm a teacher, with over 15 years of experience. I can't say I've noticed a relation between the 2. Yes, those that are multilingual have a much higher IQ, because speaking different languages is one of the only "activities" that actually raises your IQ. Yes, your memory is excellent, and yes, your sense of logic and analysis is higher than average. But from there to say that you're Math whiz? I don't know. I wouldn't stand behind this one.
Feb 22, 2013 4:50PM
This "study" is more correlation based, and not actual causation. I have a BA in psychology and would love to be involved in these studies and post actual results; meaning if it's a correlation, then I'll flat out say it's correlation.

Also, this "study" fails to mention the ethnicity of the children involved. As crazy as it may sound for professionals, cultural differences can influence the level of mathematical skills a child may display.

As stereotypical as it may sound, Asian parents, specifically East Asian, tend to emphasize (in terms of studies) rote memorization and repetition for their children to "learn" with the intention of ultimately doing well on exams.

So in that sense, I still feel like the testing styles that are implemented around the world today is totally unfair and unbalanced as it does not test the differences in childrens' backgrounds, culture, styles of learning, etc.
Feb 22, 2013 4:37PM
I believe the memory part. But, I grew up speaking English in schools and social events and at home spanish. I was not good a math until I was in High School. Reading not the best, in fact never liked it. I moved abroad at age 10 and went to school and social  events and spoke spanish and at home english with my sister. But I was always good a remembering things and still do.
Feb 22, 2013 4:37PM
It is not the bilingual kids better at math...more likely is because most of the kids that good at math is the kid with bilingual and the mother tongue is not English language.
Feb 22, 2013 6:05PM
I'm bilingual, and I suck at math. So your statement is invalid.
Feb 22, 2013 7:14PM
Nowhere in the article does it say that one causes the other. However, it does make sense that kids who are raised bilingual also perform well in math because every language is based on a code like syntax, symbols, phonetic rules, conjugation, ect. and math is also code-based. 
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