bilingual children - what not to do when raising them

February 24, 2015

 Bilingual children

We all want what is best for our children. But many parents, though well-intentioned, choose the wrong path when speaking to their children in a language other than their native language. 

There are different scenarios in which a child is set up to have a potentially great advantage to learning two or more languages. 

1. Both parents are native speakers of a certain language (i.e. Spanish) but they want their child to speak a second language (i.e.English). 

2. The mother is from a different country than the father in which case child is exposed to two languages at home (ideally).

3. Both parents speak the same language (i.e. German) but live in a foreign country (i.e. United States) and child is born or being raised in the foreign country.

Points 2 and 3 are really the once I want to focus on.

Research has extensively shown that children born to parents who speak different languages are benefitted considerably more when each parent speaks their native language to the child. This ensures the child hears each language spoken correctly and without the noise of a foreign accent. Additionally, emotional bonds are stronger when parents and children communicate in a native language, as they will share more jokes, and have more vocabulary to share feelings and stories. - [Tweet that!]

In too many cases parents make the mistake of communicating with their child in their (the parent's) foreign language for fear of confusing the child. This is just not possible. In fact, children who are naturally growing up bilingual actually test higher on other subject matter tests, like math and science (This is because their brain is growing - connecting new pathways that positively affects all areas of learning). Children grow up discerning each language and speaking both correctly. In fact, children can learn up to 4 languages simultaneously without risk of confusion or any negative cognitive consequences.

The more harmful scenario however is when both parents speak a foreign language - different from the country they live in - and communicate with the child in the country's native language. For example:

A baby is born in England to Spanish parents. The parents' native language is Spanish and as such may speak English with an accent and oftentimes incorrectly. As a result of fears due to ignorance of research they speak to the child in English - also fearing the child will not pick up English elsewhere. What is happening is that the child is growing up listening to his native language incorrectly. Moreover he/she is acquiring little to no Spanish.

Taking advantage of you and your spouse's native language to help your child develop perfect language skills in both languages is something you and every bilingual family should be doing. It is something every family aspiring to raise multilingual children should be doing!

There are plenty of sources out there that show the research that proofs that children can easily acquire 2 languages at the same time. As a parent of 2 bilingual children myself this is something I have read about extensively. Here are just a few sources for you to check:

1. "Bilingual children have a two-tracked mind" - Science Daily

2. "Bilingual children are smarter than other children" - Huffington Post

3. "Bilingual Brains – Smarter & Faster" - Psychology Today

Do your children a favor and don't take your native language away from them. They will thank you forever. 

Until next time!