My husband and I are hosting a high school foreign exchange student from Italy. It’s been fascinating to hear her speak her native language, especially since we have been learning Italian for the past two years.
But what we find even more intriguing is that she is fluent in 4 languages! Ummm…I only speak like one and a half. So 4 languages is ultra impressive!
Here in the English-speaking region of the globe, it’s uncommon to meet someone who is truly bilingual. But we’re studying and practicing Italian in our home with the intention to one day raise bilingual children.
With concern for my future children, I decided to research various scholarly articles to better understand bilingualism, and how to raise bilingual children.
Bilingualism/Multilingualism: the ability to speak completely speak and comprehend another language besides your mother tongue.
The Top 2 Necessities of Learning a Second Language
After compiling the evidence, I was struck with two main outcomes regarding learning a second language (or teaching one to your children):
If your child doesn’t know that another language exists, why would he/she value it? I didn’t fully appreciate or desire to learn Italian until I found myself in Italy. It jumpstarted my motivation and inspired me to learn how to communicate with the locals.
In order for your children to learn a second language, they must hear, observe, and interact with it!Mama, that probably sounds overwhelming and complicated. But don’t worry, it’s easier than you think! Here are a few suggestions to expose your children to a second language:
- Adopt the one person-one language strategy. Have Mom/Dad/Grandparent/Relative only speak in the second tongue to your children.
- Allow your kids to watch a television series in that language. Hint: YouTube is a fantastic resource for this!
- Listen to music, podcasts or audiobooks in a foreign language. Hint: Make these the only things you listen to in the car!
- Sing songs with your children. First you sing it (or listen to the audio of it), then try to repeat it, and eventually try to sing along. The “listen-and-sing” learning method has revealed that learners are able to repeat phrases verbatim! foreign language phrases
If the second language is simply an option, your kids are going to take the easy road (aka only speak their native tongue). Find ways to require your kids to use their second tongue, whether they know a handful of small phrases or are moderately fluent.
My husband and I attempt to have dinner once a week where we only speak in Italian. The conversation is slow but we still communicate and express what we normally would, even if it takes twice as long.
How can you make another language a necessity? This is a bit more tricky than exposure, but with the right methods employed, you can achieve necessity. Try out these ideas:
- Use the one person-one language method mentioned above. If the “one person” is an immediate family member, it becomes a necessity of daily life.
- Start right away. Don’t wait for the right time or opportune season. Tell your kids that you mean business by requiring them to start speaking right now! You know that when you put on your mom face, stern look, and serious voice – everyone listens! (It’s a necessity to obey Mama when she gets like that!)
- Did you know that infants as young as only 20 months old (1 year and 8 months) can distinguish between and fully process two separate languages? That means you can begin speaking to your child in multiple languages while your tiny one is still in your womb. The more they are exposured, the more they will comprehend. Plus, it won’t feel so awkward to speak a second language if it feels normal and is common within your family.
- Speak with your kids in your second language and only accept an answer in that tongue. The practicality of speaking improves language production and increases language complexity. Note: If your young child is learning two languages, it is normal for your child to have a smaller than average vocabulary and for the two languages to become mixed up. After all, don’t we do the same thing as grown ups when we flip between two tongues? They tiny brains are working overdrive to comprehend two languages. Don’t worry about their confusion, their minds will sort out the differences and catch up as they age.
Benefits of Being Bi- or Multilingual
- The ability to fluently speak a foreign language means that you are more open to other people. For example, understanding another tongue coincides with another culture, race, and lifestyle. People who are bilingual make less severe moral judgements of others.
- Multilingualism improves your brain and levels of concentration. In one study, people who only spoke one language had a more difficult time focusing on a single word than bilinguals.
- Bilinguals are better at multitasking. That’s right Mama, you know all about multitasking (as you think about laundry, dinner, changing diapers, playing chauffeur, work, and coffee, etc.). When your kids understand a second language, they will be better multitaskers as well! Speaking a second language promotes a better attention span and the ability to concentrate on more than one thing, due to switching back and forth between tongues.
- Bilingual kids have higher test performance skills. Every parent desires for their children to learn well and to enjoy their career of education. You’ll be extra proud of your kiddos for their high grades! Bilingual kids have been shown to perform higher than average on tests requiring creative thinking, problem solving, and multitasking.
- They will have an advantage in their future. Being able to speak more than one language will open so many opportunities for your kids! Scholarships, studying abroad, internships, and careers are just a few of the perks of bilingualism. With over 350 languages spoken in America, the benefits overflow on our home soil just as much as they do abroad. And only about half of the world speaks a second language, so translators are highly sought after in the business world.
- It becomes easier to learn an additional language. Once you know a second language, you better comprehend the linguistics, grammar and study necessary to become fluent in another tongue.
Warm Up Your Tongue And Tingle Your Ears
Get started today!
Turn on some music in that language.
Find an ebook in another tongue.
Watch a children’s show or movie in the language you want to learn. (If you want to learn Italian, I find Peppa Pig in Italian on YouTube and it’s so helpful!)
This will perk up your ears to the new sounds, get your tongue ready for speech, and keep your mind whirling as you grasp another language!