Recent studies show that bilingual students outperform their monolingual peers in a variety of ways. They tend to score better on standardized tests, read sooner, solve problems better, excel at math and have an edge in the workplace.
Higher Test Scores
Evidence supporting bilingual benefits comes from a school district in Florida that specializes in bilingual education. A report from Dr. Joanne H. Urrutia, Director of the district's Bilingual Education and World Languages Department, shows that students who are bilingual scored significantly higher on verbal and math sections of the Florida standardized test than those who spoke only English. Educators compared the verbal and math scores of two groups of fourth and fifth grade students from 16 elementary schools. One group had been taught in a bilingual environment since Kindergarten, learning 60% in English and 40% in another language. The other group had been taught in English only.
The study showed that bilingual students scored 23 to 34 points higher than their monolingual peers in both the verbal and math sections of the Florida test. Urrutia believes the higher math scores may indicate that bilingual students have advanced thinking skills and have a greater ability to think abstractly. The higher verbal scores may be because learning a second language inherently builds more vocabulary and better language skills in not only the students' second language, but also in their first.
Recently, York University linguist, Dr. Ellen Bialystok, found that children who are raised bilingual learn to read sooner than their monolingual classmates. In her study, tests were given to preschool children to analyze their understanding of letters. Monolingual children could recite the letters but could not read without the aid of pictures. However, bilingual preschoolers understood the written language without pictures and scored twice as high on language tests. Overall, the bilingual students were better prepared to tie symbols to words and words to meaning.
Several studies show that bilingual children are better problem solvers. In Dr. Bialystok's studies, both bilingual and monolingual preschool children were asked to look at a picture and solve a problem. Bilingual children were twice as likely to solve the problem than their monolingual peers. It is widely thought that bilingual children are able to tune out one language while speaking the other. And when asked to solve a problem, they use these same editing skills to focus only on what is important and filter out what’s not.
Some studies have shown that the benefits of being bilingual are also evident in math. Because bilingual students are able to think abstractly, conceptualize and solve problems, they use these same skills to excel in math. Students who graduate from FISW tend to be a year ahead in their math classes, often taking 7th grade math.
Social and Economic Rewards
The social and economic rewards of being bilingual are not limited to schooling. Children who use more than one language are also exposed to more than one culture, which leads to building acceptance and understanding of others. In the long term, the ability to communicate in more than language, and the ability to consider different viewpoints and cultures, will provide an economic edge when it’s time to choose a career.