Growing up bilingual: What are the pros and cons for our children?

Those who grow up bilingual will without doubt have an advantage on the job market. What do parents need to consider? Can bilingualism overexert the kids?

The term bilingualism imparts that one can converse in both languages in any everyday situation. The easiest way to achieve this is by growing up with two languages at home as it is quite common among international couples (for example if the mother is American and the father French). Yet bilingualism can be reached at any age, even as an adult, for instance through intense language training. This means, an American family living in Paris can just as well achieve a bilingual level if the spoken language at home stays English while at school it is French.

Some parents fear that they might overexert their kids by teaching them more than one language when in fact no scientific proof has been found that suggests any negative impact coming from bilingualism. The assumption that a bilingual toddler has to learn twice as many words has been refuted. On average, by the age of eighteen months a toddler possesses fifty words – regardless of the amount of languages they have been exposed to. So if the kindergarten teacher says your child suffers from language delay it might very likely not be true. Probably it only seems like a language delay due to the fact that only half of the child’s acquired words are in French.

On the other hand, there are a bunch of benefits that come from bilingualism. Multiple studies suggest that bilingually raised individuals dispose of a more creative way of thinking and adopt foreign languages faster.

If you want your child to learn English on top of French which they will no matter what when living in France, you should speak your native tongue as much as possible and consistently. Another option would be an English-speaking kindergarten and/or school, or, if that isn’t possible, organizing an English-speaking playgroup. This way not only the child gets in touch with his mother tongue and his original culture but also the parents.

About Britta Sedemund


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