In recent years, scientists and paediatricians have started studying the concept of Language Nutrition. It’s the idea that the brain, just like any other organ, needs food in the right quantity, and of high quality, to develop. Grey matter obviously is a bit different from the rest of the body, though. Kale or blueberries may be super foods, but neurons crave for stimulation… and learning a language is the best kind!
A strong mind in a healthy body
What’s very interesting about these studies is that exposure to a language-rich environment doesn’t only predict a child’s literacy, but also overall academic achievement, and even health. This means learning one or more extra languages before adulthood also helps with other subjects, such as science or mathematics, and increases the chances of the child growing into a healthier adult!
The role of parents
Many factors affect the development of a young mind, and early language environment is an important one. Having easy access to books is of course critical, starting at a young age. Studies also show that general public awareness, and parents helping enrich their child’s language environment, have a positive influence. Just like good parenting requires providing kids’ bodies with good, nutritious food and regular exercise, it also requires providing them with food and exercise for the mind.
There are multiple ways to do this:
- For parents who speak more than one language, getting the child used to hearing a second language at home, at a young age, has great benefits.
- Tutoring in a good quality language school, especially with a native speaker of the target language, helps the child speak very naturally, just like a kid from that country would speak.
- Watching age-appropriate movies or cartoons is a great – and fun! – option for improving listening skills and vocabulary, but is better suited for children who are not absolute beginners.
- An image is worth a thousand words, and children books with both pictures and text are an amazing way to build up vocabulary. Bilingual books are even better!
The main language
A language-rich education is not limited to learning one or more extra languages. Parents taking the time to have conversations with their children, from early childhood to the teenage years, help set them on the way to successful and healthy lives. Sit down and talk, but make sure it’s conversational. The two-way communication doesn’t just stimulate your child and makes him or her smarter, it also reinforce the special bond you have.
How about actual food?
Just like an active body needs healthy food to grow, an active brain also needs some essential nutrients. Here is a list of super brain foods for the little ones:
- Eggs: Rich in choline, the yolk of a single egg is enough for the needs of children up to eight years old. It’s a very important vitamin vital for the creation of memory cells deep within the brain.
- (Oily) fish: Oily doesn’t mean fried! Omega-3 fat, which is well known and vital for brain development, is found in oily fish such as salmon. Some studies have shown they may help manage behavioural problems, and other studies have linked poorer reading ability with low levels of omega-3.
- Oats, cereals & wholegrain breads: The carbohydrates found in wholegrains provide energy to fuel the brain. They also contain B-vitamins for a healthy nervous system. Numerous studies have shown that a breakfast filled with wholegrains improves short-term memory and attention, but beware the low quality and overly sugary stuff!
- Beans: While not a common food in Thailand, beans are high in protein and packed with vitamins and minerals. Kidney and Pinto beans contain more omega-3 fats than other beans which we know are important for brain growth and function. On top of providing energy, beans help kids concentrate at school.
- Milk, yogurt & cheese: These foods, unless you’re lactose intolerant, are nutritious and packed with protein and B-vitamins which are essential for growth of brain tissue, neurotransmitters and enzymes which all play an important role in the brain.