Harvard Researcher Visits GEMS For Bilingualism Talk
GEMS World Academy-Chicago recently collaborated with Harvard University’s Brain.Experience.Education (BEE) Lab to present a talk on the importance of bilingual language development in young learners.
Harvard's Sarah Surrain led the presentation. She provided a definition of “bilingualism” — the use of two or more languages in everyday life — and discussed the cognitive and academic benefits that researchers believe result from learning a second language during childhood.
Among those benefits, she said, is an early awareness of social cues and other people’s perspectives.
“When you learn multiple languages, you realize that people see things in different ways,” she told the crowd of parents who gathered at GEMS for the talk. “Bilingual children seem to be a little younger when they acquire this ability.”
Other benefits of bilingualism include an enhanced ability to switch between tasks and direct attention, and a more sophisticated awareness of language form and structures, Surrain said.
The presentation was particularly relevant for GEMS World Academy-Chicago, because our school community is rich with language diversity. Surrain said that 61 percent of the new families entering the school in the fall speak at least one language in addition to English at home.
GEMS has made the study of world languages a priority in the curriculum. Starting next school year, students will be able to choose among Spanish, French and Mandarin.
“We expose our students to world languages as soon as prekindergarten, and on a daily basis,” French teacher Marjorie Blettry said. “Learning a second language not only gives students a great opportunity to communicate with the outside world, but it also helps them become citizens of that world.”
While visiting GEMS, Surrain led a pilot language study at the school; a group of junior kindergarten and kindergarten students was outfitted with special digital recording devices that measure the students’ conversations with each other and with their teachers. The results will help shed light on how best to support language development in younger students.