It wasn’t too long ago when parents believed that exposing children to two languages while growing up brought more harm than good. They were concerned that being bilingual might mix up the languages in their heads and the children would turn out to be late talkers. They also feared that if their children became bilingual, this might hinder their academic and intellectual development, and the children might grow up with poor communication skills.
Parents were worried that their kids might experience interference in processing language. This is true, bilingual brains tend to work two language systems even if they are using only one language, and one system can obstruct the other.
But, this interference may actually have benefits. The fear that bilingual kids take longer to develop language skills is unwarranted, as previous studies suggest that the ability to speak two languages does not stunt overall development.
Also, many other scientific studies should ease concerns that kids knowing two languages may have bad effects. On the contrary, these studies suggest that bilingualism actually has cognitive practical benefits and positive effects on kids:
The interference in processing language that bilingual kids experience make them able to switch from one language to another. Whenever bilinguals use language, their brains are busy choosing the right word while blocking the same term from another language. This forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the brain a good workout. It is like exercise for the brain.
A number of studies suggest that being bilingual improves the brain’s executive function. The executive control is a command system in the brain that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing a variety of mentally demanding tasks. Bilinguals use this executive function more, and this makes it more efficient.
The physical brain of bilinguals adapt to the demand of juggling between two languages by restructuring itself. The brains of older lifelong bilinguals, young early bilinguals and adult early bilinguals are found to have a thickness of the myelin known as “myelination” compared to monolinguals. This thickness makes the transfer of information faster and with fewer losses.
Bilingual kids exercise cognitive flexibility; that is, they are better at focusing attention on relevant information and ignoring unnecessary distractions, making the process of learning new rules much faster. Because their brains are active and flexible, bilinguals understand math concepts and solve word problems more easily.
Bilinguals have a heightened ability to monitor their environment. They are constantly looking out for the need to switch languages, for example, talking to their parents in one language and their friends in another. Being bilingual requires keeping track of changes around you, the same way that we monitor surroundings when we are driving.
Bilinguals are less susceptible to egocentric bias and better at understanding other people’s belief because they’re able to block out what they already know and focus on another’s point of view.
A study suggests being bilingual “wedges open” a window for learning languages, making it easier to master languages throughout one’s life. Children inheriting a native language from their parents connect to their ancestors, family, culture and community. Bilingual kids are easily able to make friends with other kids who speak the same language. This is important in establishing social connections in a diverse society.
Bilingual kids are more culturally sensitive.
Bilinguals were shown to have a delayed onset of Alzheimer’s disease when compared to monolinguals. Individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism, those who are proficient in each language, were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset.
Bilinguals have advantages in the real world in terms of employment and other economic opportunities. They are able to read and appreciate literature written in another language, travel to other countries and talk to people in their native language.
Tips for raising a bilingual child
Children do not become bilingual naturally. Even though your child is exposed to two languages, at some point he or she might just stick to the majority language and forget the second language. As the parent, you need to do some planning and adopt strategies to successfully raise a child who knows two languages. You need to ask questions like how do you expose your child equally to two languages, who will speak what and when and what materials can you use to promote your child’s language learning?
Below are some tips that can help you answer these questions:
Find the right balance for your child to learn the two languages. To accomplish this, conduct an audit to see the patterns of the use of language in your home and your environment.
Try to balance the exposure of your child to both languages in terms of speaking, reading and writing.
To achieve a balance of exposure to both languages, you may want to consider having one parent speaking one language, and the other parent another.
Another strategy would be to nurture your child in the weaker language in her early years at home. Then when she starts school, she can withstand the more powerful majority language.
Once you have a plan how to use your languages, commit to it and be consistent.
Make your family commit to your effort to raise a bilingual child.
Immerse your child in language all day.
Integrate it into everyday routines and talk to each other a lot.
Don’t forget the influence of grandparents, caregivers and babysitters. Make them aware of your intention to make your child bilingual. Let them know that you would appreciate whatever help they can give you to achieve that goal.
Make language learning enjoyable.
Incorporate it into songs, games and activities.
Read books to your child in the second language.
For babies and toddlers, using media like TV, DVD’s, apps and games are not nearly as effective as human interaction. If you have to use these, interact with your child while using these devices. For example, talk to him about what is happening in the show or game that he is playing, ask simple questions or share ideas.
Babies, infants, and children (not to mention adults) learn best from interaction with other humans. It’s wired into us. In order to learn, children need language situations where the conversations are interactive, adaptive, and pitched at their level.
If the conversations are focused on the things they are interested in, it only helps.
This is true for learning in general, and also for language learning.
For older kids, media and entertainment help reinforce their second language learning. Also consider iPods and digital music player and load them with second language learning materials as gifts.
Treat your child to shows and other cultural events that involve the second language. Praise your child when they make an effort to communicate in the second language.
Socialise with other parents who are raising their children to speak the same language. You can encourage each other and share ideas and triumphs.
It also gives you an opportunity to create future play dates with the ultimate language teachers – other kids.
Be patient and stay strong when doubts about your success creep in!
original author: unknown / source: raise smart kids