When I was a kid if I had a friend that spoke a different language I would have thought that they must be the most cultured, well-traveled child I knew. I only spoke one language, and even the adults in my life only spoke one language as far as I knew. To speak another language meant that either your parents were immigrants, or you had lived in a different country, both seemed pretty worldly to me.
Times Have Changed
By the time I became a teenager, I had started babysitting for some of the local young moms. Spending time with these new moms and their next generation children, I quickly realized times have changed. Most of the parents I worked for were already working on teaching their children another language. The language of choice was usually either Spanish, French, or American Sign Language. American Sign Language was a popular one among those with babies who could not yet speak English either. If a parent only spoke one language themselves, they often learn along with the child. With tools like Rosetta Stone, it seemed easy to pick a language and learn over time.
The Educational Benefits
There are many added benefits to encouraging your child to learn another language beyond their natively spoken one. One of the first benefits is the educational and practicality of it. Teaching your child another language at a young age is easier than teaching a teenager a second language. The way their brain develops as a child is much different than when you are learning something later in life. Additionally, it helps to stimulate either types of learning and improves brain function all together. Studies have shown that children who learn a second language tend to develop reading skills much easier as they see language as a tool they can use in their environment and it allows them to have a better understanding of language as a whole. Often times a child will present stronger skills in their primary language as well. The ability to interpret abstract concepts from one language to another also gives them the skills to problem solve in more effective ways, resulting in higher test scores and stronger focus.
The Cultural Benefits
In addition to the cognitive benefits, children also experience a cultural awareness when they are raised in a bilingual environment. When learning another language, it opens up the mind to other cultures, traditions and beliefs. Often when learning a language, we are taught to be open and tolerant of people who may be viewed as minorities or at the very least have different beliefs and lifestyles than what a child may experience on a day to day basis. It also opens up the possibility for more travel with the family or even later in life as the child begins to experience the world on their own. Speaking the native language when traveling enhances acceptance and understanding on both ends.
The Emotional Benefits
Another reason is to connect with your family’s history. There is an emotional benefit to being able to express your feelings in a way that uses the same language as your mother and your grandmother, as a sense of tradition and identity is formed. Additionally, you may have family members who are still present in the child’s life and primarily speak a different language. The bonds that can be formed between and grandparent and a grandchild speaking the same language are far stronger than the bonds that could be formed if communication always required translation.