As we have been hearing about for many years from renowned researchers, the benefits of bilingualism abound. Even as far back as the early days of Multilingual Living Magazine, we published one article after another showing why multilingualism is the best way to go (we even discussed Prof. Bialystok’s research on Alzheimer’s patients long before it was hot in the media!).
But the truth is, there are many things that we do in our lives that benefit us and our brains. Multilingualism is just one of them. The most important way to keep our brains healthy is to focus on staying curious, inquisitive, motivated, inspired and using our heads in creative ways each and every day. A child who is cared for by loving, motivated parents will thrive, no matter the number of languages he or she speaks.
However, multilingualism will certainly help!
Why Start Young?
I think the most important reason to raise a child multilingually from birth is because it is a gift of effortless language acquisition. Children who are raised in more than one language don’t have to experience the trials and tribulations that we face later in life when trying to pick up another language. Young children don’t even know that they are learning more than one language. They simply mimic what they hear around them.
One, two, three languages or more are rarely a problem for young children. They use the words and sentences that they hear from us – it is easy, fun and the most natural thing in the world!
For parents of multilingual children, the process may not be so effortless.
Parents may not speak each other’s languages. The community or family members may be discouraging of multilingualism. Resources may be hard to come by.
But parents can find a way to make it happen (check out posts on this website as well as Multilingual Living Magazine for more information)! They need to remember that it is a once-in-a-lifetime gift that should not be wasted.
Start as early as you can! The earlier you start, the less your children will even notice that they are learning more than one language. And even if your children are older, then start now, right now. Make it fun and exciting and inviting.
Every little bit of language exposure has power and influence. Don’t wait for your children to learn a language in school (even if you are planning on sending your children to a dual language school). What you do at home will always have a more lasting and meaningful impact.
Growing Up Multilingually – Effortlessly!
For those of you who have been longtime readers of Multilingual Living, you will know Prof. Jean-Marc Dewaele and his lovely trilingual daughter Livia. We published an article by Prof. Dewaele about Livia’s trilingual adventure (originally in Multilingual Living Magazine), an interview about Livia when she was even younger and then an interview about his own multilingual life.
We are delighted to share the following video featuring Prof. Jean-Marc Dewaele and Livia as they discuss the differences between growing up multilingually vs learning a language in adulthood.
Livia became trilingual without feeling the effort of language learning, yet adding a fourth language (and even learning karate) is something that has taken more a more directed effort on her part. Learning Spanish doesn’t come effortlessly like French, Dutch and English did!
As Prof. Dewaele reminds us in this video, the key to children learning a language effortlessly is to offer it to them as part of their daily lives. Language learning will be taking place but it will be just another part of life. No pain needed.
But remember: don’t expect miracles! Contrary to what many say, children are not sponges who just hear a word once and know it by heart. Instead, they need language to be available to them as often as possible and in as many contexts as possible.
This is how children learn languages. And this is what will make all the difference!
Do you have children who grew up multilingually? What do they say about what it was like growing up with more than one language? Have they tried learning another language later in life? What did they say about it?