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The Pros and Cons of Raising a Multilingual Child
There are so many benefits to knowing more than one language that your multilingual child will no doubt be grateful to you forever. With many old myths it is sometimes difficult to make head or tail of it. So let's explore the real pros and cons.

The Pros

Growing up with multiple languages is the easiest, fastest, and most effortless way to learn a foreign language. For your baby, it will be as natural as learning one language is to all babies.

  • It is easier to learn another language from birth than it is during any other time in life -- baby simply has two first languages.
  • Your child will have a head start in school. In most countries, a foreign language is mandatory.
  • If your child wants to study more languages later in life, she will have a leg up. The differences in sounds, word order, stress, rhythm, intonation and grammatical structures will be easier to learn. For related languages, such as Spanish and French, the similar vocabulary will make learning especially fast.
  • Multilingualism has been proven to help your child develop superior reading and writing skills.
  • Multilingual children also tend to have over all better analytical, social, and academic skills than their monolingual peers.
  • Knowing more than one language helps your child feel at ease in different environments. It creates a natural flexibility and adaptability, and it increases her self-esteem and self confidence.
  • Your child will develop an appreciation for other cultures and an innate acceptance of cultural differences.
  • Career prospects are multiplied many times over for people who know more than one language. Helen Riley-Collins, president of Aunt Ann's In-House Staffing in San Francisco, said more than half her clients request nannies who speak another language. "Families who are involved in international business are thinking ahead," she said of her clients, many of whom work in high tech, investment banking or finance. "They want to give their children a head start in business in 20 years."
  • If your native language is different from the community language, you probably will feel emotionally closer to your baby when speaking your native language to her.

Parents tell us time and time again that they regret losing their own heritage language when growing up, something frequently reported on by the media as well. Here is one example:

Daniel told me that his mother, who was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States as a child, suffered from racial prejudice, much of it because she didn't speak English. She decided that her children wouldn't live through the same humiliations; so her children would speak only English. In retrospect, Daniel understands his mother's love and motivations, but he still regrets that tough sacrifice. "My mother's decision hurt us in the long run," he told me. "When we started working, we discovered that speaking Spanish would have been an advantage for us in the workplace."... Besides allowing their child to miss out on the great opportunity of being bilingual, parents who don't stimulate the learning of their mother tongue are ensuring that their children lose a valuable cultural heritage, the last and most important connection to their roots. Full article here.

The Cons

Raising a multilingual baby is a practice fraught with misconceptions. Everyone has an opinion and may be more than happy to share it with you. But, extensive medical studies on language development in the last 10-20 years have proven most of these myths wrong.

To make an informed decision, you simply need to know the facts. The truth is that there are basically only four potential disadvantages, and even these are not true in every case:

Speaking Later. While there's no scientific evidence that proves multilinguals begin speaking later, many parents estimate that there is a three to six month delay compared to monolingual children the same age. If you think about it, it makes sense that a child learning two or more language systems might take more time, since they are actually learning twice as many words. Even so, six months is a small price to pay for the ability to speak two or three languages!

Mixing languages. Mixing words is very common in children learning more than one language at a time. But this is a temporary phenomenon. At the age of four or five it has mostly disappeared. Don't forget that children who are learning only one language often use the wrong word until they learn the right one, and adults often say "umm" when the right word doesn't come quickly. When multilingual kids can't think of a word in Vietnamese, for example, they might borrow it from French. This automatically disappears when the vocabulary in each language increases. The best remedy is to be consistent when talking to your child. Your patience will be rewarded, guaranteed.

Additional effort for the parents. This is probably the biggest issue. Raising a multilingual child is a commitment and much like piano lessons -- you can't expect your little one to be a virtuoso overnight. This is a long-term investment in your child. It will require extra effort on your part to provide enough language exposure, extra encouragement, keeping your language rules consistent, and in some cases even change the previous language pattern in the family. It can feel a bit awkward at first if you introduce a new language into the family when baby is born, but rest assured, after a few weeks it simply becomes a part of your daily routine. Incidentally, it's easier to raise a multilingual second child if your first child was raised that way. Your first will end up doing a lot of the work for you by simply being a natural chatterbox. Parents of multilingual children agree overwhelmingly that the benefits for their children are well worth the effort.

Reading and writing. Yes, teaching a multilingual child to read and write adds to the academic load, especially if the aim is full literacy in all of your chosen languages. For many parents, it's enough if the child can speak in a particular language. Others want to go the extra mile and add reading and writing abilities. Of course, it's easier if the alphabet is the same, but even related alphabets such as the Roman, Russian, and Greek systems are similar enough that your child will pick them up fairly easily. Pictographs systems like Chinese, however, require a much more resolute effort.

 

There's no doubt that multilingual children have more advantages. Your extra effort will give them a valuable skill they'll use in numerous ways for the rest of their lives.

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Your Guide to Raising Bilingual Children