Learning A Second Language Boosts Self-Control

In Sunday’s NYT, authors Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang use the hype around the most recent book “Bringing up Bébé” by Pamela Druckerman to highlight their insights into education. Two of their arguments stood out for me:

First, unlike Americans, parents in other cultures are not so concerned about their children’s self-esteem. They tell their kids now and then that they did something wrong, and the kids grow up to be alright.

Second, they claim that Druckerman’s observations about better self-control among French and European children might have a lot to do with their growing up with multiple languages. As Aamodt and Wang write,

Learning a second language strengthens mental flexibility, an aspect of self-control, because the languages interfere with each other and because children must determine which language the listener will understand. Bilingual children do well on tasks that require them to ignore conflicting cues, for example reporting that a word is printed in green ink even though it says “red.” Bilingual children are better at learning abstract rules and reversing previously learned rules, even before their first birthday. People who continue to speak both languages as adults show these benefits for a lifetime.

The two points might be related. Learning a new language when you are around eighteen years old can hit your self-esteem. After all, you’ve learned how to write and speak well in high school, you know how to express yourself in a certain register, and now you have to start all over again. Yet, based on the article above, it might all be worth it, for it might lead to an improved experience down the road. 

Here is a humorous video illustrating some of Druckerman’s points:


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