For one fifth of first graders across Israel, Hebrew is not their homegrown language. Due to the increasing number of internationals who move to Israel, Professor Sharon Armon-Lotem of Bar Ilan University has taken to studying the affects of being bilingual, particularly in child development. Her research includes results from the past 20 years, learned from Israeli preschoolers in English, Hebrew, Russian and Amharic.
About 20% of first graders come from homes where Hebrew is not the native language, and Armon-Lotem finds that growing up bilingual means different brain processes are being utilized, compared to monolingual children and also what it takes to learn a new language.
Because bilingual children’s brain processes work differently, they are often misdiagnosed when it comes to developmental language disorder, DLD, or other language impaired issues. DLD affects about 5% of children overall; and causes delays in language advancement.
There are plenty of benefits to raising children bilingual, in addition to the access it offers for both communication and cultural purposes. Long term health benefits include the delay of the symptoms of dementia, Alzheimer’s and improving cognitive aging overall.
In more immediate terms, studies show that children who are bilingual have better focus, ability to multitask, and are better problem solvers and creative thinkers.
More research and studies continue as the international communities in Israel grows. A conference on the matter will take place on June 4 – 6 in Israel with the launch of Bilingual Matters, an international program started in Scotland. The program will be started at Bar Ilan University and will host a conference to continue researching and contributing to the study of the impact of bilingualism.