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Does your family use more than one language? Or does your child speak a different language at school from the one spoken at home? This is the first in a series of three posts by Millie Slavidou – today looking at 7 good reasons to raise your kids bilingual.
In the past, bilingualism was often discouraged, and parents were advised to use only one language with their children. Non-native speaker parents would be encouraged to use what was for them a foreign language to communicate with their children. An awkward and false situation, especially for parents without a strong grasp on the dominant community language.
These days, things have changed. Studies have proved that bilingualism is not only possible, but beneficial. Children can easily cope with more than one native language and soon learn to sort out which vocabulary and grammar structures belong to which language.
The Language of Love
At home, it is much better for parents to be able to speak their mother tongues, the languages in which they are most comfortable, to their children. Imagine speaking tenderly and using terms of endearment in a language you are not overly familiar with! It wouldn’t come naturally, and this can be sensed by a child, thereby creating an unintended emotional distance between them.
Even if you happen to be fluent in the community language, there are still so many benefits to bilingualism; who wouldn’t want their child to have a good vocabulary and a better understanding of other cultures? Some studies have shown better cognitive skills in bilingual children, as well as an improvement in analytical abilities.
To Chat With Nonna/Oma/Γιαγιά
Added to this is the fact that in many cases, grandparents and other relations in an extended family may not speak the community language. Why deprive a child of a chance of a good relationship with them, the chance to talk to them properly and communicate with them?
Guaranteed Good Grades
At least in their native, for the school ‘foreign’ language! Imagine that your child is growing up speaking Spanish at home in the UK. They go to school, where Spanish is the main foreign language on the curriculum! They already have a headstart, and their grades soar!
Not only that, but also, having more than one native language under their belt can make it easier for them to learn a further language at school. They are already familiar with two sets of vocabulary, two means of expressing something, two sets of grammar rules. That’s already twice as much as their monolingual peers, and having that extra insight will put them in a better position when it comes to learning another set of vocabulary and grammar; they are already familiar with the concept of using different word order and so on.
In our globalised society, communication skills are a tremendous asset. Someone who has the same qualifications as your child, but who doesn’t speak that extra language will be at a disadvantage compared to your bilingual offspring when going for a job. They can easily liaise with clients from both language communities. Added to that, they can more easily enter the job market in the country of the minority language if that is their choice.
Future Proof Against Dementia
Well, of course there is an increase in vocabulary, you might think. It stands to reason. You can say the same thing in two different languages, so that’s twice the vocab! Well yes, but we are not talking about just that. Sometimes, you will find that there is a word for something in one language that doesn’t exist in the other language. A lovely example of this is gemütlich in German. How would you describe it? Wecloming, cosy, comforting, snuggly. But there is no one word that captures all of that in English.
Ah yes, I hear you cry, but what is wrong with using lots of words to describe something. And supposing there was no word for ‘wade’. You could just say ‘walk through water’, or something similar. So there is no monolectic expression, no means to express using just one word. What does that matter?
It matters because without the word, you don’t tend to think of the concept. If the word doesn’t exist in your language, then even if you may understand it in another language, the concept doesn’t tend to occur to you. Which means that bilingual children have a whole added dimension to their thought patterns, their concepts are truly widened.