Raising Bilingual Children
As soon as you got pregnant, well-meaning friends began demanding that you run out and buy Baby Einstein books and videos so your child can learn to say “Good morning” in 18 different languages, starting from the moment he’s born. Of course, every mom wants to expose her child to culture and languages, and many of us are feeling the pressure from society to have our kids enriched by classical music, the great works of art, and at least one language besides English before it’s time to bundle Junior off to the Montessori school. While you don’t want your three-year-old to be the only one who can’t identify Van Gogh’s Starry Night in English, French, Spanish and Italian, have you stopped to question the benefits of teaching languages at an early age?
For many families, teaching children more than one language isn’t about keeping up with the Joneses at all. In families where English is not the first language for one or both of the parents, the challenge is more about how to teach children English, which they’ll need in school, as well as the native language, which is primarily spoken at home and represents their cultural heritage.
Benefits of Bilingualism
Whether your interest in raising a bilingual child is due to necessity or desire, studies have proven the benefits of bilingualism on children’s cognitive development. In her book Raising Bilingual Children (Mars Publishing, 2003), Carey Myles says “Bilingualism has been linked to a variety of positive cognitive benefits, including early reading, improved problem-solving skills, and higher scores on the SATs, including the math section.” Myles also claims that bilingual children have been shown to demonstrate “better listening perception” and that they “recognize earlier than monolingual children do that language is symbolic… and…are more skilled at interpreting and manipulating grammar to communicate clearly.”
Bilingualism can strengthen family ties by allowing relatives to communicate comfortably in the native language of older family members like grandparents. Children who master two languages also have increased opportunities for employment once they leave school.
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