The Power of the Bilingual Brain

Learning a second language can produce a nimbler mind. Now some schools are finding new ways to help students tap the benefits

Michael Friberg for TIME

A group of Utah first-graders listen and read along in Mandarin.

Classrooms are places where little eurekas happen--and teachers live for them. The sixth-grader struggling with the first week of algebra has no idea what a nonsensical instruction like "solve for x" means--and then all at once, blink, the light goes on. The second-grader grasps for the first time why a poem doesn't have to rhyme and then coins a perfect little word picture to prove it. For Hélène Cha-Philippe, a teacher at Morningside Elementary School in Salt Lake City, the moment happened when one of her first-grade girls said, "I eat the teacher."

Technically, that's not what the little girl said....