Raising bilingual or multilingual children is a big challenge for any family that decides to enter this path and it is more than normal to feel overwhelmed by the big amount of recommendations, resources and even misinformation available everywhere.
There are many questions that are raised right after deciding that you will raise a bilingual/multilingual child: How many languages is my child going to speak? Is he/she going to be confused? When is the best time to introduce another language? How can we start at home? Is it the best thing to do? Will there be a language delay? Where can I find information? and many more.
The following is an introduction about this extraordinary world of language and knowledge as we keep it simple for you not to be scared and on the contrary jump in right away!
The list of benefits from learning more than one language is extensive, yet these are some of the highlights from the most recent studies done about the topic.
- Bigger brain density. Brain scans reveal that kids that learn a second language before the age of five have greater density in brain areas associated with language processing.
- Better mental capacity and health. Speaking 2 or more languages helps kids to filter irrelevant information, problem solving and switching between tasks. And as healthier the brain is, less the risk of suffering from mental and brain diseases as an adult, for example Alzheimer.
- Enhanced language skills. Bilingual kids have a larger vocabulary and are able to say things in many different ways. Additionally by activating this skill, children are prone to learn another language in the future more rapidly than others.
- New perspectives and knowledge of other cultures. Raising a bilingual or multilingual child not only provides language skills. When kids learn another language they also learn about a different culture, broadening their perspectives and analytical skills.
- Helps socializing. The languages your kid learns enables him/her to meet different people besides from the local community. This gives them the opportunity to understand others different from them, gives them the chance to make new friends in different locations and helps them adapting to situations that are not familiar to them.
Just like the broad amount of questions there are when questioning whether this is the right way to go when raising your children and family, so are the amount of answers you get from people all over. Many radical points of view against this practice are based on misinformation and ignorance about the topic, reason why we consider important for you to have clear some of the myths you might encounter and be prepared to face them as you walk down this journey. Remember these are normal situations and at the end your will have a child enjoying many privileges.
- Bilingual/multilingual children have language delay. It’s true that children that speak more than one language may be slower compared to those with only one language when it comes to speaking. Nevertheless, it depends on every case and there are several children that do not have a significant gap, enabling them to develop accordingly in all areas. This will very much depend on the child and the learning approach chosen.
- Children that are taught more than one language don’t speak any language well enough. At the beginning it might seem that there are gaps in all the languages and that their skills are not as good as the kids that are learning only one language. However, once the child has differentiated them correctly they will catch up on the grammar, vocabulary and others. It’s important to note that this element is very dependant on the amount of exposure the child has on each language. Learning one will not affect the other but only itself, in the sense that it will develop correctly according to the learning process the child has done in it.
- They will have an accent. When children learn a language before 3 years is very hard that they have an accent. If you have an older child, this can be a possibility. However we ask ourselves, is it better to be able to understand and speak another language or to speak it as a native?
- Creates confusion and children will tend to mix languages. This is another situation that might happen during the initial stages. The brain tries to compensate the lack of vocabulary by giving the missing word in the other language., however the child will overcome this when the languages get stronger.
- More than one mother tongue is possible. A mother tongue is defined as the language learned in the family environment and the one a person normally uses to communicate with others. Studies have proven that it is possible to have two mother tongues.
- Exposure time matters. It is said that a child needs to hear a language 30% of the time he is awake in order to learn to speak with ease. This means that if your child is awake from 7 to 19 (12 hrs) then you need to speak in your mother language around 3 to 4 hours a day in average.
- Children are able to construct and deduce structures. You don’t need to give your child a grammar lesson in early stages. As long as you are a good referent, the child will be able to deduce the rules. This will only come ahead in the road if you intend your child to be completely fluent in the language.
- Lack of vocabulary. Tests show that young children that speak more tan one language may have a lack of vocabulary when tested in one language, but the overall vocabulary is almost the same. This improves as the kids grow up and there are no motives to worry about it.
- Language loss. When you travel or spend a long time with people that speak only one language it might seem as they have ‘forgotten’ the other(s) language(s). This situation is completely normal and there is nothing to worry about as long as you are consistent with the system you have choose for your family. With the blink of an eye the child will resume the passive language(s) once the exposure to it(them) begin again.
We acknowledge that many families decline the option of raising bilingual/multilingual children due to the high demand of work and dedication it has, as well because the lack of information and ignorance in the benefits and methods to do so. We intend here to give you the necessary tools to make a well grounded decision.
It is true the road ahead can be somehow tough, specially for the ones teaching the minority language, but we assure you it is absolutely worth it at the end.
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