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Advantages of Raising a Bilingual Child
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF BILINGUALISM?
“Giving your child an extra language is a gift for life! Well, isn’t it? What exactly is the gift you are giving your child? What benefits in life will your child enjoy and are they worth your efforts? Form your own opinion by browsing the facts of pros and cons below. I’ll start by sharing with you the most important benefits based on the latest research findings as well as the experiences of hundreds of parents and their bilingual children.
Exposure to another culture:
Learning another language has been shown to improve cultural understanding. Being able to talk to people from different countries and cultures exposes the child to different ways of thinking, different attitudes, habits and points of view. It also opens new doors. As a result, children learn early on that there is more than one way to everything.
Build bridges to new relationships:
Communication is an essential part of human relationships and although young children certainly find and use many forms of non-verbal communication to interact and play with each other, language is a key factor in new friendships. Speaking the language of those around you is the bridge to connecting with them.
Potential Economic Benefits / Career:
Many professions today require proficiency in a second or third language and those who master them are certainly at an advantage over those who do not.
More flexible and divergent thinking:
Many studies have been conducted to determine the impact of bilingual education on thinking skills and the interesting result is that bilingual children think more flexibly. One of the explanations is that these children learn very early that there is more than one word for each concept, remaining open to the possibilities.
Self-identity as a linguistic or cultural bridge:
Bilingual children not only act as a linguistic or cultural bridge, they become very aware of their special gift. This awareness transfers into their self-image and becomes part of their identity, how they see themselves and define who they are.
Increased self-esteem and self-confidence:
Knowing more than one language helps your child adapt easily to different linguistic environments, thereby increasing their self-esteem and self-confidence.
Of course, there are many more advantages. Parents report that their children learn a third and fourth language more easily, especially when the new language shares a similar alphabet or linguistic structure. Research has also shown that bilinguals develop superior writing and reading skills.
Looking through the whole list, there isn’t a single most important benefit. Different people will judge them differently. However, the combination of all indicates the most important benefit overall: becoming bilingual involves the whole childnot only his language:
Becoming bilingual defines a child’s identity, sense of security and status, self-esteem and self-image, and builds a child’s self-confidence.
ARE THERE ANY DISADVANTAGES?
her article wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t highlight the few potential trade-offs you’re about to make as you embark on your family’s journey to bi/multilingualism. But as you will see, these are rather minor compared to the list of advantages – some people wouldn’t even call them cons.
Your child might start talking 3 to 6 months later
You can expect your bilingual child to start speaking around 3-6 months later than their monolingual peers. Monolingual children are expected to say their first 8-10 words around 18 months of age and their first 2-word sentences around 2 years of age. So you do the math. If your child does not start speaking even after the additional 3-6 months, it is time to see a specialist and possibly have your child’s hearing checked. The delay in speech development in many children is the result of hearing problems caused by infections, damaging noise levels or trauma – even if hearing screening revealed no birth defects (see l appendix for a checklist on the stages of language development).
Your child can temporarily mix languages
It is normal for bi-/multilingual children to mix languages until around the age of 4. If the children do not have the right word in language A, they will borrow it from language B to communicate their message. There is nothing to worry about and no action to take before this age. However, as parents, we must stay completely consistent and avoid creating sentences that start in one language and end in another language. We serve as role models for our children. If the parents mix the languages, the children will too, and well beyond 4 years.
Your child will have to cope with an additional school load: reading/writing
If you want your children to not only speak another language, but also read and write it, you will need to provide additional lessons beyond the normal school day. Only a few schools offer this as part of the regular school curriculum. Of course, you can decide to teach your child yourself. Whichever method you choose, for at least 9-12 months your child will need to study an additional 1-2 hours per week to learn the extra skills needed to read and write in a second language.
This will require extra effort from YOU, the parents.
Raising your child with a second (third, etc.) language is a gift as well as a commitment on your part. Unlike a pottery or art class that you can attend for a few months, the decision to raise bilingual children is a commitment of a few years. This requires you to constantly work to provide language opportunities for your children by devoting time, money, creativity, and to constantly organize and reorganize your children’s language exposure.
The last point is really the biggest and most important fact to consider. Engage yourself to raising your children with more than one language will cost you extra effort and sometimes it can feel like a burden.
Deciding against bilingualism, however, is always a shame, especially when it means for a parent that their children will lose connection with a parent’s heritage and culture. One of the participants in my workshop was almost in tears because her daughter didn’t speak her language “I felt like she wasn’t really my daughter, like she wasn’t ‘mine’.
Knowing that thousands of parents before you have traveled the same path will undoubtedly make you participate in their final judgment:
“The benefits are well worth the effort!”
If you came to the same conclusion, see more information in the e-book “Make Your Child Multilingual! – The 10-Step Plan for Raising Bilingual/Multilingual Children” of the Multilingual Network.
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