I wrote a previous post on how a change in the words that a student uses can change a students mindset. Essentially, a mindset that is more focused on growth and overcoming challenges will lead to higher confidence and a clearer understanding, whereas a fixed mindset causes students to limit their confidence and potential (Carol Dweck, Mindset). I recently came across the results of a study done at Concordia University in Montréal, Québec that looked at how this concept of a growth or fixed mindset can be influenced by the process that a young learner goes through as he learns a foreign language.
This was an interesting study in its methodology. The children they worked with were 5-6 years old. Some children were monolingual and others were children who had learned a second language in some capacity. The researchers told the children stories about babies born to English parents but adopted by Italians, and about ducks raised by dogs. They then asked if “the children would speak English or Italian when they grew up, and whether the babies born to duck parents would quack or bark” They also questioned “whether the baby born to duck parents would be feathered or furred.” The children who had learned a second language knew that a baby raised by Italians would speak Italian, whereas the monolingual children were not as certain. The children with experience learning a second language were also more likely to believe that an animal’s physical traits and vocalizations are learned through experience or that “a duck raised by dogs would bark and run rather than quack and fly.”
The results of the study show that learning a second language (not two languages together from birth) not only promotes a growth mindset, but it can “alter children’s beliefs about a wide range of domains, reducing children’s essentialist biases,” which leads to less stereotyping and prejudiced attitudes. In addition, the study posits that “early second language education could be used to promote the acceptance of human social and physical diversity.”