WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF BILINGUALISM ?
“Giving your child an extra language is a gift for life! “Well is it? What exactly is the gift you are giving your child? Which life advantages will your child benefit from and are they worth your effort ? Build your own opinion by browsing through the facts of advantages and disadvantages below. I will start by sharing with you the most important advantages based on latest research findings as well as experience of hundreds of parents and their bilingual children.
Exposure to Another Culture:
Learning another language has been shown to enhance cultural understanding. Being able to speak to people from different countries and cultures exposes the child to different ways of thinking, different attitudes, habits and views. It also opens new doors. As a result, children learn early on that there is more than one way to everything.
Builds bridges to new relationships:
Communication is a core part of human relationships and while young children certainly find and use many forms of non-verbal communication to interact and play with each other, language is a key enabler to new friendships. Speaking the language of those around you is the bridge to connecting with them.
Potential Economic Advantages / Career:
Many professions today require the command of a second or third language and those who master them, are certainly at an advantage over those who don’t.
More flexible and divergent thinking:
Many studies have been carried out to determine the impact of bilingual up-bringing on thinking capabilities and the interesting result is that bilingual children think more flexibly. One of the explanations is that these children learn early on that there is more than one word to every concept, staying open for possibility.
Self-identity as a language or culture bridge:
Bilingual children not only act as a language or culture bridge, they also become very aware of their special gift. This consciousness transfers into their self-image and forms part of their self-identity, part of how they see themselves and how they define who they are.
Increased self-esteem & self-confidence:
Knowing more than one language helps your child to adapt easily to different language environments thereby increasing his/her self-esteem and self confidence.
Of course there are many more advantages. Parents report that their children are learning a third and fourth languages more easily, particularly when the new language shares a similar alphabet or language structure. Research has also shown that bilinguals develop superior writing and reading skills.
Looking across the whole list, there is no single most important advantage. Different people will judge them differently. However, the combination of them all points to THE most important advantage overall: becoming bilingual involves the whole child, not just his/her language:
Becoming bilingual defines the identity of a child, his sense of security and status, his/her self-esteem and self-image and it boosts a child’s self-confidence.
ARE THERE DISADVANTAGES ?
his article wouldn’t be complete if I did not point out the few potential trade-offs you are about to make as you embark on your family’s journey into bi-/multilingualism. But as you will see, these are rather minor compared to the list of advantages – some people wouldn’t even call them disadvantages.
Your child might be starting to speak 3 – 6 months later
You can expect your bilingual child to begin speaking about 3-6 months later than his/her monolingual peers. Monolingual children are expected to say their first 8-10 words around the age of 18 months and their first 2 word sentences around the age of 2 years. So you do the math. If your child doesn’t start speaking even after the extra 3-6 months, it is time to consult a specialist and potentially check your child’s hearing. Many children’s delayed speech development is a result of hearing problems caused by infections, damaging noise levels or trauma – even if the hearing screening showed no defects at birth (see the appendix for a checklist on language development milestones).
Your child might mix languages temporarily
It is normal for bi-/multilingual children to mix up languages until about the age of 4. If children are lacking the right word in language A, they will borrow it from language B to communicate their message. There is nothing to worry and no action to take until that age. However, as parents we need to stay completely consistent and avoid creating sentences that start in one and end in another language. We act as role model to our children. If parents mix languages, children will do so too, and far beyond the age of 4.
Your child will face an added academic load: reading/writing
If you want your children to not only speak another language but read and write in it, too, you will have to provide extra tuition beyond the regular school day. Only few schools provide this as part of the normal curriculum. Of course, you can decide to teach your child yourself. Whichever way you choose, for a minimum of 9-12 months your child will have to study for an extra 1-2 hours per week to acquire the additional skills to read and write in a second language.
It will require additional 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. Different to a pottery or art class where you can participate for a couple of months, the decision to raise bilingual children is a commitment for a few years. It requires that you consistently work on providing language opportunities for your children spending time, money, creativity and consistently organise and re-organise your children’s language exposure.
The last point is really the biggest and most important fact to be aware of. Committing to raising your children with more than one language will cost extra effort from you and sometimes, it can feel like quite a burden.
Deciding against bilingualism, however, is always a shame, particularly when it means for one parent, that their children will lose the connection to one parent’s heritage and culture. One of my workshop participants was almost in tears about her daughter not speaking her language “I felt as if she wasn’t really my daughter, as if she wasn’t “mine”.
Knowing that thousands of parents before you have gone the same way, will, no doubt, make you join in their final judgment:
“The benefits are well worth the effort !”
If you have come to the same conclusion have a look at more information in the e-book “Make Your Child Multilingual! – The 10 Step Success Plan for Raising Bilingual/Multilingual Children” from the Multilingual Network.