Raising Bilingual Children Part 2

It’s amazing to fathom how much your little one is absorbing in such a short amount of time since her birth. This rapid acquisition of knowledge, flexibility of the brain and eagerness to learn is what makes it easier for children, especially young children, to learn new languages.

Earlier this week we began our discussion of raising bilingual children by exploring the optimal time for introducing multiple languages and how to plan ahead to ensure maximum language exposure for your children. Today we’re taking a look at speech development for bilingual children as well as the advantages of bilingualism for kids.

Raising Bilingual Children Part 2Speech Development for Bilingual Children

People once believed that introducing multiple languages to babies and children would be confusing, delay speech development and result in mixing up the languages. This is likely because early studies on raising bilingual children were poorly conceived and drew some erroneous conclusions on the subject. Now experts know that bilingual children can develop speech for both languages simultaneous with very little trouble. In fact, one study out of Singapore showed that learning two languages at once sped up the acquisition of them. According to Associate Professor Leher Singh from the Department of Psychology at the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences:

“Our findings show that more exposure to one language is not necessarily better for babies. What led to better performance in learning Mandarin was being raised bilingually, with exposure to both English and Mandarin, rather than solely to Mandarin. This is a novel finding, and the first study we know of that shows accelerated word learning in bilingual children, strongly suggesting that babies are not thwarted by learning two very different languages.”

As is the case with all aspects of childhood development, children progress differently. Some children may experience slight speech delays but ultimately immerge from early childhood being fluent in two languages. It is also normal for children to mix up words from the languages, called code-switching. This usually corrects itself over time or may continue if blending the two languages is common practice among the adults in the household.

Advantages of Bilingualism

Of course the obvious advantage of bilingualism is being able to speak, read and write two languages. This is an amazing communication tool that allows your child to connect with family members and others in your community and may open many doors for her in the future. For example, she may meet her spouse, find a job or enjoy travel based on her ability to speak multiple languages.

Beyond fluency, bilingualism is beneficial for your child’s brain. Researchers believe bilingualism can help children learn to think more flexibly and therefore step outside confines to expand ideas and concepts. Bilingual children who speak both languages within the home, say to different parents, must be constantly monitoring their environment. This brain agility keeps them sharp and helps them anticipate change better than monolinguists.

Raising bilingual children is a commitment but one that is certainly worthwhile for the sake of communication, connection and cognition.

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