How and why bilingual children are different from their monolingual peers?
Numerous studies of children who grow up in bilingual settings reveal advantages over single language children, including increased cognition and attentive focus. Bilingual children, who had had five to ten years of bilingual exposure, have shown averaged higher scores in cognitive performance on tests and had greater attention focus, distraction resistance, decision- making, judgment and responsiveness to feedback by comparison with monolingual peers. It was confirmed by using neuroimaging (fMRI scans) of these children which revealed greater activity in the prefrontal cortex networks directing these and other executive functions.
The networks that appear more active in the brains of bilingual children are part of the brain’s CEO networks, called executive functions. These are a constellation of cognitive abilities that support goal-oriented behavior including directing attentive focus, prioritizing, planning, self-monitoring, judgment, maintenance and manipulation of information and analysis. Those executive functions are typically minimally developed in childhood and gradually become stronger throughout the years of prefrontal cortex maturation into the mid-twenties. That is why we find these particular characteristics of "bilingual brain" are very exciting. Bilingual settings not only enable children to translate the language intake and output but enhance their brainpower.
Let us focus on bilingual upbringing with one language spoken at home that is not the same as the dominant language of the country. The interpretations of researchers, such as Ellen Bialystok who compared responses of 6-year olds from bilingual and monolingual homes, suggest the bilingual brain is highly engaged in the cognitive challenge of evaluating between the two competing language systems. This requires executive function attention selecting and focusing on the language being used while intentionally inhibiting the activity of the competing language system. The brain needs to evaluate and determine not only the meaning of words, but also which patterns of sentence structure and grammar apply and recognize nuances of pronunciation unique to the language of focus.
Rossinca Heritage School (the only Russian heritage school in San Francisco and Bay Area) has created a perfect setting for bilingual children of school age: full after school program, numerous classes and programs taught in Russian language. It is a great opportunity for bilingual families to have an after school program or enrichment classes where children can practice their home language. It will both enrich their language skills and also provide a cognitive boost for their highest brain networks of executive functions.
We are committed to helping children to not only fluently speak Russian language, being able to read and write, but also to learn about the culture of Russian-speaking countries: their history, literature, music, folklore, traditions, and customs. We hope to see the children develop a lifelong love of Slavic cultures and to pass it on to their children and grandchildren.