Learning and Teaching a Second Language

Research shows that having a strong hold of one’s home languages facilitates the learning of any new language. Other research conducted proves the many benefits of bilingualism for adults and children. 

Benefits of bilingualism  

Enhanced brain / cognitive function
The main verifiable finding for the effect of bilingualism on cognition, is in the evidence for enhanced executive control, such as working memory and impulse inhibition in bilingual speakers. These have been found through all stages across the lifespan of a person from an infant right through to older ages. The constant use of two or more languages leads to changes in the configuration of the executive control network and results in more efficient performance on executive control tasks.

Employers are increasingly looking to hire individuals who can serve a broader clientele and collaborate with colleagues across linguistically diverse groups. Bilingual employees are better prepared for the global community and job markets where a second language is an asset. Research in Language Studies at the University of Bristol also cites data that links economic growth to linguistic diversity.

Cultural/Social Cohesion
Language is a vehicle to understand culture. Research on the social effects of bilingualism has consistently shown that speaking more than one language increases a person’s ability to respect more linguistic and racial diversity. Proficiency in two or more languages demonstrates that the person has more opportunities to interact with more diverse social and cultural groups than his/her monolingual counterpart.

Many studies demonstrate that being bilingual can delay many effects of old age, such as the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Being bilingual didn’t prevent people from getting dementia, but it delayed its effects on average by about five years. This is because bilingualism rewires the brain and improves the executive system, boosting people’s cognitive reserve. Bilinguals can compensate more as parts of the brain succumb to damage, owing to the excess grey matter and alternative pathways.


Teaching a second language

Although research over the years supports the teaching of a second language in the early years of a child [birth to 3 years] as it gets harder to learn a new language as one gets older, it is never too late to learn a new language. Children from a young age are more receptive to receiving new information. When learning a second language at a young age, vocabulary, pronunciation, and sentence construction of the language happen incidentally and informally as children are exposed to it. Children and adults learn a second language the same way they learn their first, and this is through constant communication in the target language. When teaching a second language to a child or an adult, there are a few tips to keep in mind.

It is important to expose the students to as much of the language as possible, whether in the classroom or at home. The native language will be used to explain meanings and examples, but it is important to ensure that the focus is on the target language during interactions.

Get students involved by making use of games and role-playing. Games can be used to teach grammar and vocabulary. Role-playing and dialogues are important for the recreation of real-world scenarios.

Activities outside the classroom
Students should be engaged with the target language as much as possible outside the classroom as well. Assign exercises that require interacting with people who speak the target language fluently.

The culture of the language
It is essential to make students aware of the culture from which the target language originates, so that they understand the meaning behind the language, and therefore appreciate the true depth of the words being taught.

Use of multimedia
Many students don’t have enough opportunities to get used to the target language outside the classroom, so it is important to use television, film and radio broadcasts to give them practice on the sound, flow and gestures of the language.

Supplied by: Sizwe Sibiya and Anien Evans, teachers from Bellavista School

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