Why are you doing that to your kids?!!!!! Do not confuse them!
What are we talking about in this blog? Bilingual children of course. I know that many of us bilingual parents have struggled with the decision of teaching our kids our natal language or a second language. Of course we know the importance of teaching them English, but is it okay to also teach them a second language? Personally I have heard many people tell me that teaching my daughter Spanish first is actually hurting her because the world around her speaks English to her. They have even suggested that her learning Spanish first is the reason she does not talk as much as other non-bilingual kids her age. I have to admit that bothered me, and I questioned it like many do. Luckily science is on our side and we can now look at studies that explore just that. So here we go!!!!
There are many questions regarding how beneficial it is to teach young children a second language. Some have even questioned if this may delay a child’s learning process or word comprehension.
Let’s first discuss cognitive abilities, or abilities of the brain and mind.
Marian and Shook (2012) present research that focuses at comparing bilingual children and monolingual children (children who only speak one language), and their capacity to perform certain tasks that require attention. Researchers refer to this as attention and task-switching capacities. These findings suggest that bilingual children were able to switch between languages. In other words, they showed that bilinguals have an ability to use one language while inhibiting (blocking) the other (Shook, 2012). How cool is that!!!! Researchers refer to this as language co-activation (Shook, 2012).
An example of this can be applied to a bilingual’s personal life versus their life in another setting such as school. If Spanish is only spoken at home, then the bilingual will be attentive to only use that language at home, versus using English with their friends at school. Marian and Shook (2012) also present findings related to these abilities in children as young as seven months. YES 7 MONTHS. They report that bilingual children as young as seven months seem to show better adjustments to changes in environment. What does this mean? It suggests that bilinguals are more likely to ease into new environments because of their ability to communicate with a larger audience and possibly understand more concepts. Researchers report that when bilinguals are using one language, they are, at the same time, thinking about the other language. This may occur when they hear a word or a partial word and try to put it into context in terms of what language it may be in. An example of this is the following; if a bilingual person who knows English and Spanish hears the partial word or sound “ca” they may begin to think of words both in Spanish and English that start with those two letters “cama, casa, carrot, candy”. This co-activation of language is important because it allows an individual to summon information they know about words and semantics (meanings) in more than one language, usually with ease and at the same time (Marian and Shook, 2012).
So.. lets recap on the possible benefits of being bilingual for children and beyond!
- Bilingual children have the ability to almost automatically think in two different languages at the same time!
- They have the ability to understand more words because of their increased vocabulary and use of root words in order to find meaning in another language.
- They are more likely to feel comfortable in “foreign” situations.
- They perform better in tasks requiring the use of more than one language (Ex. Reading science based in Latin words).
- They are able to switch between languages and in the case of babies, they learn to recognize when another language is spoken to them.
- These are of course aside from the obvious benefits which are: Finding a better job because you know two or more languages and being able to listen to different music and possibly understanding the lyrics! MY OPINION OF COURSE!!
BUT, to every good side— we must explore THE DARK SIDE!
Although several benefits of bilingualism have been presented, researchers also report on the possible limitations and disadvantages that being bilingual may have. One of these relates with the individual’s ability to communicate with those that only know one of the bilingual’s spoken languages. Miscommunication and confusion may occur because of co-activation and the fact that bilinguals are constantly thinking in two different languages. Marian and Shook (2012) refer to this as linguistic competition. They also report that this may lead to slower response time, especially when bilinguals are shown pictures and asked to name what they see. Findings in this study also report that a disadvantage may be that trying to control what language is being used at one time and trying to inhibit the other may be hard and often may interfere with the message. This may also be true when trying to translate what they know from one language to another, especially if the second language does not possess the same translations or vocabulary.
Let us recap the possible limitations or cons:
- Possible miscommunication
- Lower response time in certain tasks that require us to translate a sentence or phrase while still keeping the meaning the same in another language.
- If not practiced, one language can become weaker than the other, and may with time even be hard to speak.
So now that we know!! What should we do? Should we teach our children two languages? Here is my take. This is what Elena Thinks.
I thinkit is a beautiful thing to be able to teach our children the language of our roots. If you are ready to teach your child a language aside from English, then I applaud you. If you are not, then maybe your children can decide that later for themselves. Do NOT worry. Neither is the wrong choice. I do however want to offer some advice to parents trying to stick to 2 languages, or even more!
- Be patient… try to be consistent. Do not teach them one language half way. Don’t start with “Spanglish”- It’s a thing!
- Try to teach them the proper way of speaking that language and refrain from slang or bad words (they will learn those on their own soon enough).
- Measure your child’s interest. If they do not show an interest for a certain language then do not fret, some languages are easier to learn than others.
- Try reading and listening to music or movies in that certain language so that your child may recognize the language more or so that maybe you all can learn new words!
- Do not think your child is being confused.. children as young as four months can differentiate between two languages being spoken based on tone and enunciation of words. (I will link the video in my next post)
- Practice, practice, practice! Make sure you and your children practice the language, because it is true what they say… If you do not use it… you will LOOSE it. Or in this case weaken it.
So go and teach your hijos la lengua de tu tierra! 🙂 Language of your land 🙂
Once again, thank you for taking the time to read this week’s blog. I know that I did not present research from many articles but I thought this was a great one because it presented both the benefits and possible limitations of this week’s topic. Later this week I will try to post a great video we studied in my Masters program regarding language acquisition. As always, please “like” “Comment” or “share” my blog so that I may reach others. I welcome suggestions always! ElenaThinks.Life
Marian, V., & Shook, A. (2012). The cognitive benefits of beingbilingual.Cerebrum.https://