In the field of early education worldwide, there is a common concern among families that introducing multiple languages to their child too early can result in some sort of language or developmental delay – however, this is not supported by empirical evidence. On the contrary, current research has definitively shown that raising children as bilingual or even multilingual creates significant cognitive and behavioral advantages further down the line.
So, what benefits are there to raising my child in a bilingual environment?
A study done by the National Academy of Sciences in the United States showed that compared to monolingual children, bilingual children as young as 7 months old had:
- Improved attention span and problem-solving skills
- Improved conflict resolution skills
- Higher amounts of gray matter in their brains
- Better memory
How can we introduce a second language to our child?
Children learn languages quite differently from adults. According to notable psychologist Noam Chomsky, children are born with a ‘language acquisition device’. He was essentially describing an innate ability for children to pick up languages more efficiently than adults. In order to raise bilingual children, you should:
- Expose your child to the languages through speaking and written text
- Give opportunities for your child to use both languages
- Make interactions as natural as possible i.e. learning through play or storytelling
Without a bilingual home environment, it is important to carefully consider a school for your child that will enable this. Tutor Time, as one of the pioneers and premier providers of a full immersion-based bilingual program in Hong Kong was specifically created around this standard.
We are already bilingual at home. How can we ensure our child acquires both languages equally?
We’re big fans of the OPOL approach – One Parent, One Language. To implement this, you need to keep in mind several things.
- Each parent speaks to your child in one language exclusively.
- While interacting with each parent, you should encourage your child to use the corresponding language.
- Pay attention to the dominant language. Children will naturally favor one language over the other, so try to find more uses for the less-used language.
If my child learns multiple languages at once, won’t they mix them together?
Probably! And that’s a very normal thing. Switching effortlessly between different languages, sometimes even in the middle of sentences is called code-switching, and it’s a surprisingly challenging task. It’s usually a great sign that your child’s fluency is growing! (Bilingual adults do this frequently as well)
Won’t bilingual children learn to speak later than those who can only speak one language?
The idea that multiple language exposure creates a significant delay in child development is an extremely Eurocentric and now outdated concept- the majority of children in the world today are growing up at least bilingual, with a significant number being multilingual. Bilingual children who are in the pre-verbal stage of their development (babbling, etc) develop at virtually the same pace as their monolingual counterparts. First words begin to emerge at some point between 6-15 months- sometimes bilingual children will be a little towards the later side of this spectrum but still well within normal range.