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Brain Benefits of Bilingualism

Monday, December 11, 2017

Faculty and staff at Shu Ren International School have personally experienced and witnessed the benefits of a bilingual international education.  Sometimes, we are so passionate about what we do, that it can be hard to put into words for others!  However, many others are able to clearly outline some of the most important benefits of what we provide at Shu Ren.  On November 29th, 2016, Anya Kamanetz, lead education blogger for National Public Radio (NPR) wrote an article outlining the current studies and findings related to the benefits of bilingual education.  The original article, 6 Potential Brain Benefits of Bilingual Education, was a true boon to our faith in the curriculum and environment at Shu Ren International School.


One of the major abilities of bilingual individuals is the ability differentiate the environment in which speaking one or more languages is appropriate.  For instance, at home it may be more appropriate to speak English, Cantonese, Spanish, Hebrew, French, or any number of languages that our wonderful students speak.  However, our students tend to understand that when they are with their teachers or “laoshimen/老师们”, they must adjust to Chinese or English. When Kai Laoshi greets her students, they know to respond with a kind “Nihao/你好”; however, if Mr. Adrian is walking the halls and calls to our students, they know to respond with a “Hello”.  This helps our students develop great strength in terms of paying attention, changing focus, and using cultural, linguistic, and individual cues to successfully interact in various environments.  According to Antonella Sorace at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, Bilingual students “can pay focused attention without being distracted and also improve in the ability to switch from one task to another," and in general have stronger attentive abilities than their peers.  In addition to ensuring a bilingual IB environment, faculty and staff at Shu Ren work with students to create opportunities for further learning such as assembly presentations, community events, school projects, and so much more in English, Mandarin, and Spanish!

Empathy and Diversity

Embracing diversity and showing empathy are both strong skills and values that all individuals within Shu Ren International School share.  According to Sorace, as quoted by Kamanetz, “bilingual children as young as age 3 have demonstrated a head start on tests of perspective-taking and theory of mind — both of which are fundamental social and emotional skills.”  This is a critical skill in terms of interacting with children, adults, and leaders within a diverse environment.  As bilingual education attracts families from an amazing array of backgrounds.  From those families who have worked and lived abroad to families who may have never left the country but are eager for their child to experience a bigger world, the Shu Ren community provides an outlet for everyone to have their language, culture, and perspective heard, respected, and considered as part of a bigger mission in bringing the best of bilingual education to the Bay Area.  Currently our students are mostly native English speakers; however, as we plan to establish a two way international exchange program, both native English and Mandarin speakers’ abilities to navigate diverse groups and environments will be tested.  Yet, our students already show a great deal of empathy and compassion towards community members regardless of their direct relationship to themselves as they understand that as a community we work, grow, and thrive together.

Reading (English)

According to Kamanetz’s article, American University’s Jennifer Steele performed a randomized, four year trial where students were assigned to “ dual-language classrooms that offer instruction in Spanish, Japanese or Mandarin, alongside English”.  Steele found that dual language students achieved higher levels of academic success than their monolingual peers; she suggests that bilingual students engage in  “metalinguistic awareness” where students practice a higher level of awareness of the complexities of language, specifically the languages each student is learning.  Shu Ren International School students utilize different skills and languages to inquire into a number of different subjects and topics.  In Grade 2, students inquired into the various aspects of nutrition.  During this unit, students were assigned two different books from the new reading program Razz Kids, which was instrumental during the class’ guided reading time.  Students also reviewed their reading comprehension and vocabulary while participating in projects such as fermenting vegetables and visiting the 99 Ranch Market, a well known Asian supermarket.  

For more information about the potential brain benefits of bilingual education , please read the full article here.