In an increasingly globalized, interconnected world, communication is more important than ever before. The internet has made the world a whole lot smaller than it once was. Generations who grew up with the internet, including today’s children, are exposed to different languages, cultures, and people. Social media and video games result in many children having friends around the world. In successfully navigating this world, learning languages is a tremendously useful skill that will pay dividends when it comes to finding jobs, making decisions, and even developing confidence.
The main benefits of raising a bilingual child
Raising a bilingual child will benefit them in the future when it comes to career prospects. The number of U.S. job postings geared towards bilingual candidates more than doubled from 2010 to 2015. Even just domestically, the rising Latin American population in the United States means bilingual opportunities will keep getting more popular. Those who can speak Spanish as well as English will be much more competitive in the U.S. job market now and in the future.
To reap these benefits, it’s best to get started early. Children’s brains are much more elastic than adults. This comes with many cognitive advantages. The critical period – from birth up until puberty – is one in which a child’s brain is more open to new sounds, less afraid of making mistakes, and more absorptive of new information. In fact, this goes beyond just bilingualism: research shows that learning a second language makes picking up additional languages a significantly easier task, especially among children.
Beyond the obvious benefits of being able to communicate more and thus gain a greater understanding of various cultures, learning languages gives you the power to think differently. New grammar structures, vocabulary to encapsulate untranslatable things and ideas, and upgrading neural pathways in your brain will allow you to conceive of the world and solve problems differently. Each language is a unique skill set that can offer you new perspectives and ways of thinking. Furthermore, studies demonstrate that decisions made in your second language are more driven by reason than those made in your native language.
Will teaching a second language interfere with my child’s speech development?
This is a very common worry among parents that makes them hesitant to raise their children as bilingual. The fear is that overwhelming your child with more than one language will cause speech delay. This is unfortunately a persistent myth that can’t seem to be extinguished.
There is no causal relationship between multilingual upbringings and speech delays. Studies show that bilingual children produce their first words at about the same age as monolingual children, 12-13 months on average. The same goes for word combinations. It is well established that raising your child in a bilingual environment will bring nothing but cognitive benefits.
How to expose your child to a second language
Bimodal Home Environment
The greatest way for a child to learn a second language is the same way they learn their first: mom and dad. Speaking several languages in the home is the most affordable and most efficient way to ensure your child acquires multiple languages because parents are the people the child hears the most. Most of our language acquisition comes from prolonged stimulus – every day as children we hear the adults around us talk. We hear them talk to us and we hear them talk to other people. The child’s powerful brain will begin to pick up words as normal, just as they would if they were raised in a one-language household. This is how you talk to your grandmother. This is how you talk to your mother. So on and so forth. Children won’t think twice; their brains will automatically sort the languages and they will be able to reap the benefits of being bilingual.
Language Immersion Schools
Bilingual education is a great way to give your child repeated exposure and practice, both of which are critical to language acquisition, especially if it is a language that you, the parents, do not speak. Once your child is ready to begin going to school, consider a bilingual school. Most are private, meaning you need to pay tuition fees, and this can be a steep cost for many parents. Bilingual daycares are a great way to expose your child to the target language even before he or she becomes of school age.
If physical schools are too much of a financial burden there are many online language programs for kids. Just an hour or two after school, over time, will prime your child for success. Shoonya has an interactive, immersive app that offers online Hindi classes for kids. Other apps like DuoLingo or Babbel are fun, gamified means for children of reading age to learn all sorts of languages. There are also child-orient classes offer online from native speakers.
Children are sponges. That is to say, they possess a grand capacity for absorption. If you expose your child to languages through travel to foreign countries, foreign-language speaking communities domestically, TV and movies and music in the target language, and more, they will certainly take away a thing or two.
Meetup is home to many language and cultural clubs in which people gather once a week online or in-person to practice a language and share elements of a culture, often while partaking in something fun like a movie screening or grabbing a bite to eat at a restaurant. While these various types of language exposure won’t immediately result in your child learning a second language, it can spark an interest that your child can pursue later on, such as through high school or post-secondary language classes.
What language should I select for my child?
Obviously, the best and most accessible option is a foreign language that either one of the parents, or perhaps the grandparents, speak. However, if you aim to have your child acquire a language that isn’t present in the home, then there are several factors that ought to be consider.
Is this language common in your region?
The southwestern parts of the United States are home to many Spanish speakers. If you walk into a public-facing establishment such as the DMV, a real estate company, a law firm, or any fast food restaurant in Arizona, for example, you’re to find Spanish-speaking employees. As such, there are many businesses looking to hire applicants that speak both English and Spanish.
Other regions of the world have different neighboring countries and thus have different languages that bleed in through the border. Many people in northern Spain speak French.
Will the language help career-wise?
You should also consider job markets at large. China and India are major players in the finance spheres. As such, learning Mandarin or Hindi might put a future businessman at an advantage.
What languages are harder than others?
It’s undeniable that some languages are harder than others. In fact, English ranks pretty highly in terms of difficulty to learn for those who grow up speaking another language.
Thankfully, for young children, difficulty is negligible because they are so adaptive. However, as children get older and start to exit the critical period for language acquisition, it will become significantly harder for English speakers to learn non-Romance languages such as Mandarin, Russian, and Arabic.
Raising your child to be bilingual is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give to their child. Not only will it allow them to communicate with more human beings and navigate the world better, it will boost their confidence, give them new ways of thinking, give them the edge in the job market, and prime their brain for learning further languages should they choose to do so. This investment into your child’s future is a no-brainer. If your child is in that critical period from 6 months to 10 years old, get start today!