Bilingual Kids

Nowadays it seems to be almost common sense that raising your child to be bilingual is an advantage for the child. The concerns and doubts concerning speech delay and confusion of bilingual kids due to excessive demands or mixing languages have been largely dispelled.

The rule of thumb is, the earlier you start, the better and it would be optimal to start from birth before the age of three years. But the so-called “window of opportunity” does not close so quickly. Adults can still learn a language at a very high level, almost like a native.

However, when you learn a new language after puberty has passed, it will be stored in a separate area of your brain, so you will have to translate or go through your native language as a path to the new language, as studies show.  

In my opinion it is natural to raise your child in your mother tongue. When my daughter was born, I was already living in Spain for more than eight years and was used to speaking Spanish all day long. But I did not even consider talking to her in a language that was not my first language. Now, at the age of 4 years she feels confident in all three languages of her surroundings. She switches between Spanish (family language) German (with me) and Catalan (at school) as required, without effort and with the sweet mistakes small children usually make.

Think of the gift your child receives with the additional language that opens the door to a culture that would be otherwise difficult to access. I cannot imagine my daughter not being able to communicate with her grandparents…

The child may only want to speak the language of the social surroundings  

But I know that there are also questions and doubts regarding this subject. The gift may be rejected.  

In our recent “German mothers in Barcelona” –group’s conversation on Facebook one mother wrote:

„I speak German all the time with the kids. My husband is Spanish, in school they speak Catalan. Both children (3 and 5) refuse to speak German. There are books and films in German. They understand everything but won’t speak. I don’t want to oblige them, but I have not given up hope. I suppose, one day they will begin to speak German when the interest is big enough, through friends, etc.”  

A great attitude! These children have already received the gift of understanding the language. And when the time has come and they decide that they want to speak the language, it won’t be too difficult for them. In these cases of "Receptive bilingualism" children can usually learn to speak the language quickly when they find themselves in an environment where the language they only knew passively is used exclusively.

But the rewards go far beyond the ability to communicate with your relatives.

Advantages of multilingual kids

To say that bilingual kids learn better or are smarter than monolingual kids is certainly exaggerated. However there are several studies that have found evidence for the following advantages bilingual kids seem to have:

  • Bilingual kids showed an increased power of concentration when they had to solve tasks for which the attentiveness was crucial.
  • On average, a person that has grown up with more than one language has a smaller risk to suffer from Dementia (this advantage can have adult learners as well)
  • It also seems to be easier for multilingual kids to learn a further foreign language than for monolingual kids.
  • Bilingual kids showed an increased ability to change behavior patterns when they had to sort items according to a rule and afterwards, according to a different rule.   

And what about the danger of mixing languages?

First of all, this is temporary, as I was told. And besides: Isn’t it funny? Some time ago, my daughter demanded: “Lauter schaukeln!”(“Swing louder!”) when I had to push her on the swing, instead of  “ Höher schaukeln!” (“swing higher”) But in Spanish the word for high is “alto”, the same as for loud.

The other day she said: “Mama, guck mal, das ist ein neuer Truck!”  Truck?? She wanted to say “Look mommy, this is a new trick” (German:” Trick”; Spanish: “truco”)

I strongly recommend that you keep a journal and write down some of the funny expressions or stories, if you have the privilege to raise a child (bilingual or not). The memories are invaluable. See how these little brains work?

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