It is always surprising to me, but when I first decided to raise my children bilingually, and still to this day, the question I get asked the most is: Why?
– Why not??!!
The truthful answer is: Because I can. It is a gift I can give my child, why wouldn’t I give it? If I were a dancer I would teach my child to dance, if I were a singer I would teach my child to sing, if I could fly I would teach my child to fly. I know what kindness is. I teach my child kindness. I know what respect is. I teach my child respect. I know the love of books, I give my child the love of books. I speak several languages. I give my child the gift of bilingualism.
Beyond simply being able to, there are so many great reasons why raising your child bilingually is a praise-worthy pursuit. I have grouped them into three major categories, let’s take a look:
Academic and Cognitive benefits
It is now widely known and understood that being raised with two or more languages from an early age has wide-ranging and far-reaching benefits on brain development, function and performance. A bilingual brain is fundamentally different from a monolingual one and has numerous neurological markers which easily distinguish it on brain scans from a monolingual one. There is an extensive number of on-going research projects still exploring the many ways in which a bilingual brain enriches the life of its owner and new links are being made all the time between bilingualism and delaying, lessening and even overcoming an ever-broadening range of mental and neurological conditions, from dementia to ADHD and recovery from stroke. It seems the more things we study, the more ways we find bilingualism to be advantageous.
For now, things we do know include that bilingualism creates a more flexible, agile and analytical brain, better at all forms of problem-solving, including in maths and science. The bilingual brain demonstrates an enhanced ability to focus, concentrate, memorise and multitask with a significantly extended concentration span and the ability to flick back and forth between multiple functions without losing track. Bilinguals also have the edge when it comes to detailed, creative and abstract thinking and are able to communicate even ephemeral and tenuous ideas competently. It is no surprise that thinkers like these perform better on final school exams and score higher on IQ tests, not because they are inherently more intelligent per se but because they are more adept at the kinds of problem solving and analytical thinking required in these contexts.
As might be expected, there are also a whole host of language benefits associated with bilingualism. Bilinguals tend to have a much deeper understanding of their first language through constant comparison across their languages. They recognise root words and thus have access to a greatly extended vocabulary. Their increased phonological awareness helps with learning to read and bilinguals often demonstrate superior reading and writing skills in the long term. Beyond reading and writing, bilinguals possess better communication skills generally and, as an added bonus, they find it much easier to add a third, fourth, fifth language to their native languages later in life.
Wow! I’m already convinced, but let’s look at the next category…
Psychological, Social and Cultural benefits
Apart from being good for our brains, bilingualism is good for our hearts and minds too. Children raised with their heritage language feel more closely bonded to the other members of their family, to their extended family, to their heritage culture and, by extension, to the world as a whole. As they grow, bilingual children have an increased sense of belonging, a stronger self-identity. Even very young children have been shown to have a more sophisticated self-perception and understanding of their role in the world. They are more global-minded. This enhanced cultural understanding and connection gives bilingual children a more integrated cultural identity and pride in themselves and their heritage. Closer emotional bonds with family and culture create better family relationships, which in turn lead to higher self-esteem and a more positive attitude towards school. With increased self-esteem and self-confidence, bilingual children very often go on to play the role of a cultural bridge in their professional and personal relationships, acting as mediator between two parties which otherwise struggle to understand each other, because the child loves and understands both positions. Possessing two languages means, by definition, possessing two different world views. Bilinguals understand there are different ways to do the same thing, which means they are less easily defeated or discouraged when something doesn’t work out the way they expected. They are more likely to try again in a different way. They are more adaptable. This exposure to different ways of thinking means bilingual children often grow up open-minded, and mindful of others, they have a deepened understanding of the world through access to alternative viewpoints, not to mention a much wider pool of contacts and information, and therefore understanding. Superior communication skills are not only a social asset, they are also the key to a wide breadth of experiences across the globe.
Sounds good huh? Not only efficient brains, but happy minds and fulfilled hearts. Bilingualism is a no brainer! One more area to think about…
Economic and Professional benefits
It does not take a lot of imagination to think of the sorts of benefits the above-listed assets might bring in the professional arena. Employers prize multilingual employees in the workplace, not only for their language skills but for who they are: adaptable, open-minded, confident, focussed problem-solvers able to multitask, get along with their colleagues and international partners, and think outside the box. What’s not to love? These candidates have a far greater selection of job opportunities available to them both at home and overseas and can expect more attractive pay packages because they bring a lot more to the table. Global-mindedness leads speakers of multiple languages to not be limited to just the options right in front of them, their languages give them access to the world. And when they travel, for business or pleasure, they can go and make real connections with their family members overseas.
Well, I’m sold. What about you?
Now, there are some reasons and circumstances why people choose not to raise their children with their own languages. Some of these are very good reasons, they might be political or for their family’s safety. Very often too, conflict within the family can be the reason for not passing down a heritage language. But all too often, parents don’t give their child a language they themselves speak because they don’t know how. This is why Little Bilinguals exists.
If you would like to explore anything discussed in this post in relation to your family, please contact us for a consultation: 0439 688 817.
And as always, let us know what you think in the comments section below. What benefits have you found for raising your children bilingually?