Connecting the World: How Parents Can Raise Bilingual Children

By Dave Sebastian

Behind your usual morning cup of coffee is a complex story — a possible combination could comprise Guatemalan beans, a Japanese processing machine, and a paper cup made of pulps from an Indonesian forest. How did everything arrive so impeccably at where you are now? Well, the world runs on words.

In trade, at least, country borders stretch merely as lines on the map. And that should not be a surprise — traders across seas have concluded countless deals over ages. The more languages one can master, the more the connected with the world he or she can become. Hence, to parents working through their children’s bilingualism — or, better yet, multilingualism — you are doing the right thing.

Studies have found numerous benefits of knowing more than one language. Being more adept and creative in problem-solving is one of the perks, according to a 2012 University of Strathclyde research led by Fraser Lauchlan. Observing 121 children around age nine in Scotland and Italy, the study found higher mental alertness in bilingual children after asking them to solve arithmetic problems and testing their motor skills.

Another advantage bilinguals or multilinguals usually have is the flexibility in switching tasks, according to a 2014 study by Toronto’s York University (Wiseheart, Viswanathan, and Bialystok). After conducting various tests measuring non-verbal intelligence on 68 young adults, the research suggested “that bilinguals are better able to actively reconfigure stimulus-responses associations.”

Though there are no definite age limits for acquiring a new linguistic skill, starting off early can serve a rewarding investment. Here are a few suggestions on how to instill that second or third language into your child:

  1. Interact with the language’s community
    Many schools have already been offering various language classes, be it Chinese, Spanish, or German. Counting numbers one to ten in those languages may not be challenging, but do those classes ensure proficiency? If you have been following this article to this point with full understanding, then ask yourself: How did I become proficient in English? Because you’ve been using the language. The less frequent one is exposed to a language, the less chance he or she would be able to master it. Thus, try finding your child a community that actively uses the language he or she is pursuing.

  2. Invest in books and movies
    Apart from practicing the language with an active group of speakers, you can also encourage your child to read texts or watch movies in the pursued language. This way, your child can be regularly exposed to the language — with the hope of his or her using the language better in the future.

  3. Travel
    Say you would like your child to be proficient in Chinese — how can you familiarize him or her with the Chinese culture? Take him or her to a Chinese-speaking area or country between breaks and vacations. With such cultural exposure, your child can connect better with the language he or she is pursuing and find more relevance.

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