Choosing to Raise Bilingual Children
by Marti Ahlquist
The information on this page is just a brief summary of a complex issue that can be different for each family. For more information please check the resources listed on Books on Raising Bilingual Children or Links on Raising Bilingual Children where you will have access to more in-depth descriptions and examples.
Bringing up your children as bilingual (or multilingual) is an important decision. It will impact them for the rest of their lives. Parents have different reasons for deciding to raise their children bilingual.
There are many advantages for your children to grow up bilingual. Below are five reasons for raising children to be bilingual.
Bilingualism has been linked to a variety of positive cognitive benefits, including early reading, improved problem-solving skills, and higher scores on the SATs, including the math section.
Bilingualism can enable children to experience more than one cultural perspective on the world.
Bilingualism can enhance children’s later opportunities in higher education.
Bilingualism can improve children’s later prospects for employment.
Bilingualism can strengthen family ties. (Myles, 2003)
What does it mean to be bilingual? The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines it as
1: having or expressed in two languages (a bilingual document) or 2: using or able to use two languages especially with equal fluency (bilingual in English and Japanese) 3: of or relating to bilingual education (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)
What is your definition of bilingualism? Does your child need to listen, speak, read, and write equally well in both languages to be bilingual? Or, could he be able to understand but not speak the second language? Is the child bilingual if he is stronger in one language than the other? Parents tend to have their own definition of bilingual and work towards meeting that goal.
The level that a child will become bilingual will depend on many things but their success will be directly related to your definition of bilingualism and the strength of your decision to pursuing your children’s bilingualism.
There are a lot of misunderstandings about bilingualism and they have resulted in seven myths as stated by Naomi Steiner in her book 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child. The author is coming from the point of view of someone in the United States promoting bilingualism but people from other languages might have these beliefs also.
If a child is not very intelligent, then he cannot become bilingual.
A child will become “confused” and mix languages if he learns more than one language.
If a child does not speak English by kindergarten, she will have difficulty in school and difficulty learning to read.
Bilingualism leads to language delay.
A parent must be fluent in more than one language to raise her child bilingual.
Children just absorb a language passively.
A baby’s brain is naturally made to learn multiple languages.
Mixing is a natural step in learning multiple languages.
A child can adapt and learn languages well beyond 5 years of age.
There is no scientific research that shows that bilingualism leads to language delay.
Monolingual parents can raise their child bilingual.
The brain requires a rich and stimulating environment for a person to become a fluent speaker.
Myths and Facts about Bilingualism (Naomi Steiner, 2009)
For more information read Helping Your Child Become Bilingual.
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2012.
Myles, C., (2003), Raising Bilingual Children: A Parent’s Guide. Los Angeles: Parent’s Guide Press.
Steiner, Naomi, (2009). 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child. New York: AMAC
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