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The cognitive benefits of Mandarin/English dual-language instruction

How learning in a dual-language environment increases math scores, and much else, at Toronto's Dalton School

by Glen Herbert  

“When you learn a second language,” says Donna Booth, “it lets you know that there’s more than one way to do things.” As principal at Toronto’s Dalton School, an English/Mandarin dual-immersion school in Toronto, Booth sees the benefits of that in her work every day.

Less obvious—though becoming more so—is how learning languages can affect not just what we think, but, quite literally, how we think. This, too, is something that Booth sees in her work, and is one of the reasons she co-founded the school in 2012.

It's sort of like piano... We put our children into piano to exercise their brain, to open up new pathways.

Increasingly, it’s the cognitive benefits of language acquisition that are the draw to intensive language programs, including the development of attention and the relaxation of academic inhibition, as well as sensory benefits, such as the encoding of sound cues. Still, even that may be just the tip of the iceberg. A study conducted at Northwestern University in Illinois found, in the elementary grades, “both the majority-language and minority-language two-way immersion (TWI) students exhibited reading and math advantages over their non-TWI peers.” Unexpectedly, those benefits were found to be greater for students in the minority language group, rather than those in the majority, somewhat dispelling the notion that learning in a second language is detrimental to academic achievement.

“It’s sort of like piano,” says Booth of language learning. “Do we put our kids in piano because we expect them to be a concert pianist? No. We put them in piano to exercise the brain, to open up new pathways within the brain.” Booth feels that conceptual flexibility—the opening up of those pathways—is something that her students will take with them wherever they go in addition to the languages themselves. 

 

5 key brain benefits of dual-language immersion programs

“In the last 20 years or so, there's been a virtual explosion of research on bilingualism," says Judith Kroll, a professor at the University of California. Research has found the benefits include enhanced:

  1. Attention

  2. Empathy

  3. Reading comprehension

  4. School performance and engagement

  5. Diversity and integration

The Dalton approach to Mandarin/English instruction

"Bilingualism," says Gigi Luk, associate professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, “is an experience that shapes our brain for a lifetime." The program at the Dalton School is based on Booth’s experience working and teaching in China, where her classrooms were a mix of international and domestic students, and in which the core curriculum was taught using both instructional languages equally. The surprise for her was that it wasn’t the chaos that we might assume. Rather, students functioned in both languages with remarkable ease. Conversations with students would switch between them as they moved between topics or thoughts fluidly and unselfconsciously.

Certainly, that’s a common experience in schools around the world—students in Finland, for example, learn many languages, and shift between them even from a very young age—though less common in this country. We might assume that the culture of the school—the language spoken in the hallways and the cafeteria—would gravitate to one language, but that’s not what happens. Students move between languages as they move naturally between thoughts, ideas, and concepts, and are largely unaware of the transitions. If you ask, “Why did you switch from English to Mandarin just then?” they respond, “Did I?”


Students at the Dalton School, a bilingual Mandarin/English private school in Toronto, Ontario
 

“We’re not teaching Mandarin as a subject,” says Booth. “We’re teaching school in Mandarin.” As such, cognitive and social development proceed naturally along with language development—language isn’t a course of study, but instead a tool learners use to understand the world around them.

Due to its character-symbol relationship and its varying tonality, Mandarin requires the use of more areas of the brain than French or Spanish. Young children easily absorb the difficult tones and nuances of the Mandarin language. 

Fluency is just one goal among many, and Mandarin lends itself particularly well to all of them. Due to its character-symbol relationship and its varying tonality, Mandarin requires the use of more areas of the brain than English, French or Spanish. That level of challenge and stimulation, says Booth, is in fact one of the reasons that it was chosen for The Dalton School program. 

“At the beginning of the year it’s a very quiet classroom,” she says. “But as the year goes on it becomes much, much louder.” Chuckling, she adds that “when you hear them arguing with one and another in Mandarin, you know you’ve been successful.”

Sending your child to a bilingual Mandarin/English school makes a world of sense. Your child will not only be learning the fastest growing language on the planet, they will be learning the fasted growing second language in the West. Click here to learn more about Dalton School, Toronto's only Mandarin/English dual-language school. 

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List of The cognitive benefits of Mandarin/English dual-language instruction

 
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  School Name Type Cost

McDonald International Academy (est. 1994)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • 9 to 12 Coed
  • Boarding school
  • Day school
McDonald International Academy offers programs for grades 9 to 12 with 2 locations in the heart of Toronto. Its average class size is 10 to 20 students. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$10,100 to $26,600


HighSchools Boarding Day Coed 10100

TFS - Canada's International School (est. 1962)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • NS to 12 Coed
  • Day school (1250 students)
TFS - Canada's International School offers Canada's only bilingual IB programs from PK to Grade 12. Average class size is 12 to 22 students. Entrance Scholarship to Grade 7 is available. [View profile]
  • Progressive
  • International Baccalaureate
$19,180 to $32,980


Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 19180

The Dalton School (est. 2012)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • JK to 8 Coed
  • Day school (100 students)
The Dalton School is a dual-language English/Mandarin school that is warm, stimulating, and multi-cultural. The school exposes children from JK to Grade Eight to new ways of thinking, learning, analyzing and perceiving. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$22,250

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reviews (1)

• User reviews (1)
Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed 22250

The Giles School (est. 1989)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • PS to 8 Coed
  • Day school (170 students)
The Giles School is a French immersion private school in Toronto for children age 2 (Pre-K) to Grade 8. Open Admissions through Grade 1, small classes, and Mandarin introduced as a third language in Grade 1. [View profile]
  • Liberal Arts
$12,900 to $22,500


Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed 12900

Académie Westboro Academy (est. 1993)  

  • Ottawa, Ontario
  • JK to 8 Coed
  • Day school (150 students)
Westboro Academy is a proud leader in bilingual education for boys and girls from Kindergarten to Grade 8. Give your child a lifetime of excellence with Ottawa's most personalized, truly bilingual education. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$14,440 to $14,985


Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed 14440

Alexander von Humboldt German International School (est. 1980)  

  • Baie-D'Urfé, Montreal, Quebec
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • Day school (300 students)
We offer a sound, internationally recognized academic foundation. Our students gain fluency in three languages and achieve mastery of biology, chemistry and physics. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$7,150 to $10,400


Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 7150

Lycée Français de Toronto (est. 1995)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • Day school (550 students)
Lycée Français de Toronto is a French school that offers programs from nursery to grade 12. Its average class size is 17 students. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$16,496 to $19,120


Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 16496

Northmount School (est. 1990)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • JK to 8 Boys
  • Day school (115 students)
Northmount School offers an enriched curriculum in Catholic education from junior kindergarten to grade eight in Toronto. Its average class size is eight to 15 students. [View profile]
  • Liberal Arts
$16,000 to $29,900


Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Boys 16000

TFS - Canada's International School (West Campus) (est. 1962)  

  • Mississauga, Ontario
  • PS to 7 Coed
  • Day school (185 students)
TFS - Canada's International School (West Campus) offers programs from pre-kindergarten to grade seven. Its average class size is 12 to 22 students. [View profile]
  • Progressive
  • International Baccalaureate
$10,660 to $26,545


Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed 10660

The Study (est. 1915)  

  • Westmount, Quebec
  • K to 11 Girls
  • Day school (385 students)
The Study offers a bilingual mother tongue programme in both English and French from kindergarten to grade 11 in Westmount, Quebec. The average class size is 12 to 18 students. [View profile]
  • Progressive
$20,140 to $22,675


Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Girls 20140

Lycée Louis Pasteur (est. 1966)  

  • Calgary, Alberta
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • Homestay school (10 students)
  • Day school (375 students)
Lycée Louis Pasteur is the only school in Calgary to teach the French Ministry of Education and Alberta Education curricula. Three years old to Grade 12. All linguistic backgrounds welcome. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$12,700 to $14,350

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Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Homestay Day Coed 12700

The Gow School (est. 1926)  

  • South Wales, New York
  • 6 to 12 Coed
  • Boarding school (135 students)
  • Day school (15 students)
The Gow School is a special needs private school that offers programs for grades seven through 12 in South Wales, New York. [View profile]
  • Traditional
US $46,000 to US $64,000


MiddleSchools HighSchools Boarding Day Coed 46000

Académie Vaudrin Academy (est. 2005)  

  • Vaudreuil-Dorion, Quebec
  • PS to 6 Coed
  • Day school (100 students)
Vaudrin Academy offers innovative and trilingual education based on neuroscience which is unique in the world. [View profile]
  • Progressive
  • Montessori
$5,568 to $11,832


Preschool Kindergarten Elementary Day Coed 5568

German International School Toronto (est. 1999)  

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • PS to 8 Coed
  • Day school (70 students)
German International School in Toronto offers programs from PK to grade 8. It provides a German curriculum enriched with Canadian content. [View profile]
  • Liberal Arts
$8,900 to $17,350


Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed 8900

Magnificent Minds (est. 2011)  

  • North York, Ontario
  • PS to 8 Coed
  • Day school
Magnificent Minds caters to learners whose needs are not being met in traditional school environments, pursuing academic excellence, and individual greatness. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$8,400 to $25,000


Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed 8400

Kuper Academy (est. 1987)  

  • Kirkland, Quebec
  • K to 11 Coed
  • Day school (950 students)
Kuper Academy offers programs from pre-school to grade eleven in Kirkland. Its average class size is 22 students. [View profile]
  • Traditional
$5,121 to $14,640


Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 5121

Bodwell High School (est. 1991)  

  • North Vancouver, British Columbia
  • 8 to 12 Coed
  • Day school (145 students)
  • Boarding school (450 students)
  • Day school (25 students)
Bodwell High School in North Vancouver is a full boarding school that enrolls 600 students. Tuition starts at $15,500. We provide Education for a Changing World. The school motto is "Strength in Diversity." [View profile]
  • Traditional
$19,150 to $38,450


HighSchools Day Boarding Day Coed 19150

College Prep International (est. 1944)  

  • Montreal, Quebec
  • 5 to 11 Coed
  • Day school (125 students)
College Prep International, a traditional private school in Montreal, offers English instruction with partial French immersion, for grades five to twelve. Its average class size range from 12 to 18 Students [View profile]
  • Traditional
$12,500 to $13,500


MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 12500

West Island College (est. 1982)  

  • Calgary, Alberta
  • 7 to 12 Coed
  • Day school (575 students)
West Island College offers post-secondary preparatory programs from grades 7 to 12 in Calgary. It's class size varies from 15 to 25 students. French Immersion is offered alongside the English program [View profile]
  • Traditional
$16,120 to $21,120


MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 16120

London International Academy (est. 2002)  

  • London, Ontario
  • 9 to 12 Girls/Coed/Boys
  • Boarding school (175 students)
  • Day school (5 students)
  • Boarding school (175 students)
A Canadian Private Secondary Co-ed Boarding school, located in downtown London, Ontario. LIA offers academic courses from Grades 9-12 and is authorized to grant the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD). [View profile]
  • Traditional
$9,200 to $41,900


HighSchools Boarding Day Boarding Girls Coed Boys 9200

Calgary French & International School (est. 1969)  

  • Calgary, Alberta
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • Day school (780 students)
Calgary French & International School graduates will be active global citizens with a foundation for life-long success, and our school will be the leader in French immersion and international education. [View profile]
  • Progressive
  • International Baccalaureate
$7,900 to $15,100

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reviews (1)

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Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed 7900

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