Raising Bilingual Children Part 1

Raising Bilingual Children Part 1Many parents aspire for their children to be bilingual but they question how the development of two ore more languages will affect comprehension and speech in the long run. Raising bilingual children can be an added challenge but one with many benefits for everyone. Experts agree that starting both languages from birth and allowing them to develop simultaneously is the very best way to encourage bilingualism. This week we’re sharing information about raising bilingual children.

Whether several languages are spoken in your home or within your extended family, your native language is different from the country where you reside, or you simply want to imbue your children with the powerful cognitive benefits of bilingualism, raising bilingual children is a noteworthy goal. Although childhood is the best time to learn to be fluent in multiple languages, it will still take effort and planning to ensure your children have adequate exposure to both languages.

The Best Time to Become Bilingual is from Birth

Studies show that the ideal time for laying the foundation for a bilingual child is from birth to three years of age. This is the time when language emerges for all children and, contrary to widespread myths, learning two languages at once does not cause confusion or long-term speech issues. These early years are when a baby’s brain is expanding and developing more rapidly than any other period other than prenatally. Therefore, babies are primed to learn language with an open mind.

Experts say the next window of opportunity in raising bilingual children is between four and seven years old. This is when children are solidifying rules of language and learning to read and write. Doing so with two languages simultaneously is much easier at this stage than later in life. After this phase, children are able to learn new languages fairly easily until puberty at which point a second language requires a different part of the brain and translates words from the native language to the foreign language.

Family Planning for Bilingual Children

For families who want to fully immerse their children in two languages from birth, planning ahead is wise. The generally accepted guideline for parents who have different native tongues is that they will each speak their own language to the child and expect the child to respond in the same language. If one language is spoken inside the home and another is the native language of the community, both should be introduced in the home. Once the child has more external exposure, more of the parents’ native language can be used in the home. Sticking to language boundaries is important to ensuring your child develops both languages equally and knows you won’t resort to the easier one when communication is difficult.

Additionally, families who are committed to bilingualism should have plenty of resources in the home for natural exposure to both languages including books, music, toys, games and media. Just as a single language is learned (not necessarily taught) to monolinguistic children through everyday play and conversation, so should bilingualism. This may take some extra effort to accumulate learning tools in both languages but the continued exposure will pay off over time. Also rely on native speakers other than yourself as a parent. Grandparents and other family members, friends, caregivers and teachers should be part of the learning process for your bilingual child.

Stay tuned later this week as we discuss speech development and the advantages of raising bilingual children.

Sources: BabyCenter, Parenting, Multilingual Parenting, The New York Times, Linguistic Society of America and Science Daily