We are now living in a very diversified culture and society. It is natural to find people who are speaking at least two languages. These people are bilingual. But there are some bilingual parents or even those who are not, that are afraid that they’re teaching their children two languages would make them confused. Is learning two languages beneficial for our kids?
Most of the times, these children who have learned two languages find it as a necessity in their environment and community (Houwer, 1999). There are some cases that children would grow up in communities where most of the people who speak in two languages on their everyday tasks. This would have an impact on how children would learn and, later on, speak these languages.
Not all parents are happy with their children learning to speak two languages. There are speech therapists who believe that learning two languages could actually cause language delays. They would say that children would end up confused. In some cases, they would even suggest that parents make way for the dominant or major language, and drop speaking secondary languages. They believed that learning the main language of the environment will be better if there are no other languages to compete with.
On the contrary, these claims by speech therapists still remain to be unproved and without any supporting scientific evidence. There are many children who have grown up in bilingual, even multilingual, family and community, and they did not develop any language disorders or delays.
Some linguists and child development experts would even recommend children to be taught with foreign language between birth and age 7. There are studies showing that children can say about 50 words, whether they are monolingual or bilingual, by the time they reach 18 months. Apparently, according to Italian researches, a baby or child that learns how to speak two languages could actually make the brain more flexible. Experts also discovered that the ability of children to acquire language easily would decline when they reach puberty.
If you are a parent who wants to have a bilingual child, then there are some things that you can do:
• You can make your children exposed as much as possible to the language you would like them to hear. But make sure that it gives them time to hear both languages. You could start reading them books. Tapes and CDs will also help with language learning. Children can be very enthusiastic with music, so try singing too. Watching television, videos and DVDs are also great ways to introduce them to the language. Some parents would even enrol or encourage their children to be a part of language program like language holidays.
• Remember that languages are closely linked to emotions and identity. There are some children who develop a sort of trauma whenever their parents would stop responding to them just because they use a different language. So be conscious when talking to your children, too. Do not use language exclusively with just one child. The others may feel excluded and later on develop problems with their behaviour.
• Sometimes parents can be too strict when teaching their children to learn other languages. Do not punish, humiliate and rebuke your children just for using a different language when talking to you or to other people. If you feel that your kid is not catching up with the speech milestones a child should meet, then do not hesitate to consult professionals. Sometimes it could be a hearing-related issue.