by Erin Cohn, 1.8.19

Ecole Bilingue de la Nouvelle-Orléans, originally founded as a full-immersion French preschool in 1998, was the first program of its kind in Louisiana.

Ecole Bilingue has since expanded to have a full elementary and middle school– speaking to the success and popularity of a bilingual curriculum. We spoke to Pierre-Loïc Denichou, Academic Director of Ecole Bilingue de la Nouvelle-Orléans, about the benefits of bilingual education on young minds.

“Bilingualism is an experience that shapes our brain for a lifetime," says Gigi Luk, an associate professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. In the past twenty years, there has been a substantial increase in the number of studies touting the benefits of schools with dual-language or two-way immersion programs.

School systems in places like New York City, North Carolina, Delaware, and Oregon have expanded their dual-language programs knowing their students will reap the benefits of bilingual education.

Pierre-Loïc Denichou, Academic Director, Ecole Bilingue la Nouvelle-Orléans

1. Executive functioning skills

Pierre-Loïc observes, “When children study another language, they are indirectly going to learn about their own language too. They will make comparisons and notice the similarities and differences as the languages build on one another. This cognitive work is unique to the bilingual approach.”

Being able to switch between two languages requires “inhibition” and “task switching,” subsets of executive functioning skills.

Studies have shown individuals who speak two languages often outperform monolinguals on general executive function measures, demonstrating the cognitive advantage of bilingualism.

2. Empathy

Children who are bilingual rely on social cues to figure out when and where to speak which language. As young as three years old, these kids have demonstrated a head-start on tests of perspective-taking and theory of mind, fundamental social and emotional skills.

“A bilingual environment helps children understand that not everyone thinks the same way. Language is crucial in explaining how we think and communicating about cultural differences,” Pierre-Loïc noted.

3. Reading Comprehension

In one recent study, by the end of middle school, dual-language students outperformed single-language peers in English reading skills by a full school year’s worth of learning. Researchers credit increased “metalinguistic awareness” for this improvement, suggesting that bilingualism aids in understanding the way all language works.

Pierre-Loïc often notices that “children will start to make jokes in the target language. They will start playing around with the meaning of words, in their natural and target languages, as their vocabulary expands. It can be very cute and very funny, but it is a fascinating insight into the bridges that their brains have begun to make between the two languages.”

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4. Diversity

Bilingual classrooms are typically more ethnically and socioeconomically balanced.

Pierre-Loïc says, “Diversity is natural in the bilingual classroom, not only amongst students but faculty too. Most bilingual teachers are from abroad and offer not only linguistic expertise but cultural as well. You are not only studying the language but the countries and cultures in which it is spoken.”  

Evidence shows that more representative classrooms help children of all backgrounds to gain comfort with diversity and embrace different cultures.

5. Attitude

Students engaging in a dual-language education have somewhat higher test scores, but more importantly, they seem to be happier in school. Dual-language students have been shown to have better attendance, fewer behavioral problems, and higher rates of parent involvement.

6. Life-Long Benefits

Bilingual kids can speak two languages! That’s amazing! A bilingual education removes international language barriers, ensuring endless possibilities for careers and travel. Ecole Bilingue de la Nouvelle-Orléans embraces a global approach, ensuring their students are open-minded and knowledgeable of different cultures through literature and geography classes.

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