See Inside July / August 2011

The Bilingual Advantage: Second Language Increases Cognitive Ability

Learning a second language can give kids' brains a boost

Kevin Van Aelst

Many parents would like their children to master a second language, but few kids in this country do. Only 9 percent of adults in the U.S. are fluent in more than one language. In Europe that figure is closer to 50 percent. “The United States is a long way from being the multilingual society that so many of our economic competitors are,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at a meeting on foreign-language education last December.

Part of the problem is that American students are often not exposed to a second language until high school, and even then foreign-language training is rarely compulsory. Numerous studies have shown that children are more likely to learn a second language if they begin early, but in 2008 only a quarter of elementary schools in the U.S. offered some form of foreign-language instruction, according to the Department of Education.

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