Are bilingual children more successful academically?
Someone in the discussion somewhere talked about some study concluding that children raised in two, or more, languages tend to succeed better in academical contexts, and in all subjects not just language classes.
I was wondering if any of you had noticed some correlation at all. Or if you want to share some personal experiences. I guess most of you will be teaching languages, but maybe some teach other subjects as well, or you will have heard stories from colleagues in other departments.
Edit : Here's the discussion, if anyone is interested. The whole thing is very interesting, if you care to read it.
Before I begin, I'd like to give you a context for my comments. I'm a primary educator in Canada. I've taught grades two to five (6 to 11 years old) as a classroom teacher and nursery to six (4 to 12 years old) as a technology support teacher. Most of my teaching career has been in disadvantaged urban areas, although I did spend a few years in "middle class" schools.
Here's what I've noticed about students from dual language homes. The fact that they have access to a second language is utterly irrelevant.
(Oh dear...I feel a bit of a rant coming on...if you're not in the mood for a rant, perhaps you'd better stop reading now. Just a thought...)
Here are a few things that (in my humble opinion as an educator) ARE relevant to achievement:
Parents' attitude towards learning - if parents value learning, so do their children. Children who routinely see their parents actively engaged in ongoing learning are far more likely to value learning themselves.
Attitudes regarding reading at home - children who routinely see their parents reading (for pleasure, for learning, for information, etc.), arrive at school motivated to learn this skill.
Conversation - don't knock it until you've tried it. There is solid scientific evidence (which I will look up for you if you need me to...but Google will find for you faster...) that the number and variety of words spoken in conversations with children DIRECTLY correlates with academic achievement. As a primary teacher, I can corroborate that this is true. When children learn to read, one of their primary cues is what they expect the words to be. If their spoken language skills are only rudimentary, their writing and reading language skills are unlikely to progress beyond that level.
Nutrition - overwhelmingly, students who come to me having eaten breakfast learn better than students who come to me hungry. Right, I know, it's not your job to feed hungry kids. I agree. In a perfect world, all children would eat a healthy, nutritious breakfast before coming to school. Sadly, this isn't a perfect world. You might want to consider that today's students will be tomorrow's decision makers. If there's a school breakfast program in your area, you might want to consider supporting it.
Sleep. Sounds too simple, right? But yes, sleep. At least eight to ten hours each night for primary school aged children. Quiet, undisturbed sleep time is when the brain cements learning. It is also what prepares the brain for ongoing learning the next day. I have students in my class this year who have TVs in their bedrooms, parents who party loudly at night, baby siblings who keep them awake, or other disturbances that deny them a full night's sleep. Please, seriously, if you do NOTHING else for your child, EVER, let them come to school each day well rested.
But if all of that is already in place, then yes...a home environment that promotes learning a second language is probably beneficial.
As a teacher, though, if you send your children to me well rested, well fed, with a strong vocabulary and valuing literacy and learning in general, then I'll teach them the skills they'll need to make the most of their abilities and to make the world a better place for everyone.
End of rant.
Well, I don't think it sounds too much like a rant. Actually, all you said seems very sensible, thank you very much for taking the time to write all that.
As I said to Velosareon in another comment, I don't really have an opinion on the matter myself, I simply read that from some comment on another forum and I was genuinely curious to hear about real life experiences from teachers. Since I'm not a teacher myself, even if I'm really interested in the subject of education in general, as I believe proper education (and all that comes around it, including giving every possible opportunity to less advantaged children) is at the base of any society that respects itself and its future.
Maybe being bilingual does play a certain part on the academic success of children, maybe it doesn't, but it certainly isn't the prime factor in the whole picture. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's what I understand from your comment. And most of what you said clearly influences children success can be improved by most parents, no matter their situation, whereas raising children in two languages isn't as easy.
In my personal experience, I don't think there's much of a correlation. If you're talking about getting good grades, then I'd have to say I disagree.
Several friends (only knew English) and I (grew up with English and Russian) took the same "college level class" on campus in high school, Political Science (101 and 102). I didn't care for it so I walked away with a B and a C while most of them had B's and A's. Now that we're in college, after our second semester I have a 4.0 GPA after 12 classes, and them only ~3.5 after ~8 classes (I took more classes per semester), while my German speaking friends are both struggling just to pass all of their classes.
Maybe the correlation is existent at a much much younger age, (though I can't say I was somehow better at school than monolingual students) but at secondary and post-secondary level education, it's more about how much effort and work you put in, the quality of education, and the competence of the professors.
I can say that "wealthiness" had not much to do with my family. :P In fact, my cousin in Russia is a very... unmotivated student, despite her family being in a much better financial situation than mine ever was. Though then comes a whole bunch of other layers of complexity to the equation.
Honestly, I very much feel that trying to find these outlandish correlations is a very big issue in all these articles and magazines that try to teach how "the best kids ever" are created, nurtured, and how to make them successful.
I think it has more to do with what ideals and values kids are raised with, and how they are left to explore things on their own with support and guidance in needed times. Forcing kids to do one thing will break them or make them rebellious, and sometimes kids make bad decisions people can't even control as parents. Unfortunately there is no "shortcut" or "one cool trick" to amazing, smart, and successful kids.
Oh! you're certainly right that we (as a society) put too much emphasis on bringing up the best children possible, and that sometimes have the reverse effect.
I actually don't have a strong opinion one way or the other (that being raised bilingual might help in school or not), I just wanted to hear what people, and teachers in particular, thought about that.
And about the wealth of bilingual children's families, passed a certain level, it doesn't change much. But the poorer a family is, the less the parents have the time and the resources to follow all these recommendations to stimulate properly a child's intellect, creativity, curiosity, etc. and that includes making sure a child masters one or two languages properly. All I'm saying is that there are so many factors, it's hard to isolate only one (being bilingual in this case) to try and make it correlate to something else (in this case academic success).
In September, I'm entering my third year of University. In my program and my year, there are roughly 200 students. My University is known for its diversity. If I had to guess, I would say that out of those 200, less than 20 speak only one language.
From the people with whom I have spoken, there are large variations in the GPA of students of both groups. This distinction may be more evident in the multilingual group because of the larger sample size. As for which group performs better academically, I cannot say based on my speculations.