The number of U.S. residents age 5 and older who speak a language other than English at home has more than doubled in the past three decades. If you have ever thought about raising your kids to be multilingual, now is the perfect time to start. The earlier they are introduced to a second language, the easier it will be for them to pick it up. Knowing a second (or third) language could one day give your child an edge in an increasingly global workforce. And when these children get to school age, they tend to have superior reading and writing skills in both languages, as well as better analytical and academic skills.
However, many uninformed people believe that being a bilingual is a negative experience for a child. Most of these people are referring to five common myths about raising a child with more than one language:
1. Growing up with more than one language confuses children. Some parents think that if a child is exposed to two languages at the same time, he might become confused and not be able to differentiate between them. But specialists say that from just days after birth all infants can tell the difference between many languages, and this is especially true when the languages are quite different from each other.
2. Raising a child to be bilingual leads to speech delays. Some children raised bilingual do take a little longer to start talking than those raised in monolingual households. The delay is temporary, and according to experts, it has nothing to do with any language development problems.
3. Bilingual children end up mixing the two languages. Mixing languages is both inevitable and harmless. It’s very common for children growing up with two languages to select words and phrases that work better for them in each language. It’s a phase they will outgrow and it’s actually a sign of a powerful bilingual brain that can easily code-switch between the two languages it knows well. It eventually goes away as a child’s vocabulary develops in both languages and he has more exposure to each one.
4. My child is too old to become bilingual. It is never too late to introduce your child to a second language. Yes, learning a second language is easier for children under ten, and even easier for children under five, and the optimal time seems to be from birth to three years… but even after puberty, studies show, new languages can be learned successfully; the only difference is that the children have to translate or go through their native language as a path to the new language.
5. Children will become bilingual without effort and in no time. Becoming bilingual does not happen by itself. Introducing a second language to your children does require some kind of structure and, most important, consistency, whether it is through day-to-day conversation or formal instruction. The idea is to expose them to language learning in meaningful and interesting ways that are connected to real life.
Here are some ideas of how you can make being raised bilingual fun and relevant for your child:
- Be proactive in creating a bilingual family plan and committing to being consistent in the quality and quantity of language exposure that will be given to your child.
- Surround your child with people and moments that will create to him a perceived need to speak the language (e.g. hire a babysitter who speaks another language)
- Make sure the language exposure that different people provide, is consistent and they do not switch from one language to another.
- Sign your child up for a bilingual daycare.
- Use playgroups with other bilingual families.
- Read stories in both languages.
- Learn songs and rhymes in both languages.
- Play games, games, and more games (e.g. Puppet shows, puzzles, etc).
Dive in! For many families in-home immersion translates to one parent always speaking in the second language and the other parent speaking English.
What you can expect: A bilingual child…in time. Do not worry if he does not speak either language as adeptly as his monolingual peers do at first. If your child is exposed to both languages the same amount, he will be able to speak both equally well by the time he goes to school. Don’t underestimate how capable he is of using the language when he needs to, even if with you he is just been refusing to speak it. He is still absorbing the sounds of the language and developing retention. He might just surprise you one day! Just like this little girl speaking Spanish, English and French fluently: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KswIJwGknA