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Benefits of Different Languages for Brain Development

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: Is there any scientific support for the idea that learning several foreign languages in the first few years of life improve the brain and learning?

We have a daughter-in-law taking her 1-year-old child to 4-5 language classes (including Chinese) each week...Partly on the theory that different languages strengthen different portions of the brain. So far, he is one bright kid! And physically very able.

A: Compared to adults, the child's brain is different in that it is a very dynamic structure that is evolving. They are ready to learn any language they hear as babies, but by six months of age, they start to specialise in their native language. There are many benefits of being bilingual or even multilingual and at 1 year of age, it is a perfect time to learn many languages as the child's brain is able to master languages well till about 4-5 years of age, when it slows down absorption of foreign languages. This is why, as adults, we often find learning a new language rather hard.

Therefore, your daughter-in-law is doing fine - especially since your grandchild is a bright kid and physically very able. As long as the child is also enjoying it and more importantly, capable of mastering it, there is no reason not to further stretch his brain. There is enough evidence of the benefits of multilingualism in studies done over the years.

Some readings on multilingualism: (on pros & cons of multilingualism)

Having said that, scientific evidence suggests bilingual and monolingual kids have similar language development milestones; it appears that children learning two languages do not experience delays in this regard generally. So, that should not be a concern for kids with one language ability. However, I would surely suggest more than one language for kids, especially when they are below 5 years of age, and more so for bright kids. Good luck!


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