The Do’s and Don’ts of Raising Bilingual Kids
In the era of extreme globalization, speaking at least one foreign language aside from your native one is more than a benefit. Studies have shown that bilinguals have several advantages over single-language speakers, and not only in the social domain, but in cognitive functioning, as well. Thus, you should be open to providing your children with foreign language classes as soon as they start learning their native language in order to get the most out of bilingualism.
In order to make things a bit easier for young parents, we have pointed out some of the most important Do’s and Don’ts that you should keep in mind when raising bilingual kids.
DO speak both languages to your kids
Babies start learning their soon-to-be native language while they are still in the womb, and since this is the language they are mostly exposed to, it is also the one they most easily catch on. Speaking a second language to your baby is crucial for development of bilingualism, since they also need to develop brain structures that are sensitive to this language. Studies have shown that early bilinguals actually show better performance in multitasking and have a wider attention span than non-bilinguals.
DO introduce a second language as soon as possible
Children act almost as if they were programmed to learn language, so, the sooner you introduce them to another language, the more benefits they will have. Late bilinguals show lower performance than early bilinguals, especially when it comes to attention shifting and inhibition. Many studies have also shown that early bilinguals have better pronunciation and distinct acoustic realization than late bilinguals.
DO enroll your kids in a multi-lingual school
Multi-lingual schools offer a rigorous immersion into the world of languages, and require more usage of non-native languages than any other form of language education. It has been shown that the best way to start using a second language in a non-native environment is by having no other option – if no one speaks your native language, you have to speak theirs. This is why special schools that prepare kids for such occasions have been developed. For example, Mulberry House offers a vibrant Mandarin immersion speaking and learning environment. You can be sure that in inquiry-based educational surroundings like these your children will develop multi-lingual skills in no time.
DON’T ask too much of your kids
It would be inappropriate to expect your kids to speak both languages perfectly at every stage of their learning. Since younger children have more flexible cognitive structures, language learning can easily escalate, but reaches the peak around the age of 11. If your children start showing less progress around this age, this doesn’t mean that they got lazy – they just can’t do any better. This also doesn’t mean that language learning will stop, but it won’t go as fast as it used to. Although some studies show that another peak comes around the age of 15, the essential cognitive base for language learning is getting closer to its final form, so future language learning is only going to be harder. This is another reason why it would be better to start teaching your kids new languages as early as possible.
DON’T be worried about code-switching
A common issue that parents face with bilingual children is mixing words from one language to the other. This is not something that should worry you, because code-switching is a normal developmental phenomenon that all bilingual kids go through. The more they study languages, the easier they will switch from one language to another without mixing them, and this practice has been shown to have great benefits for cognitive switching tasks that account for working memory.
DO travel with your kids
Traveling to places where your kids’ second language is native is going to bring you more benefits than you can imagine. Surrounding your kids with native speakers can help them develop acoustic sensitivity and also make their pronunciation better. Moreover, speaking with natives can help improve their fluency and overall speaking anxiety.
Use all the chances you can get to speak new languages to your children, help them learn and they will surely enjoy all the benefits that multi-lingual knowledge has to offer.