I have two beautiful daughters and like every parent, I want the very best for them. I love them wholeheartedly and my dreams for them are big. However, with so many options available to parents at the tip of our fingers, all the “good things” that I MUST do for them are sometimes overwhelming! But the reality is that each one of us has to pick and choose our battles and know that even though we as parents won´t be perfect, our children will be just fine.
One battle I did choose is to raise my two girls to be bilingual. Below is a summary of some of my thoughts and research which went into my decision.
1. Children’s Amazing Brains (They CAN Be Bilingual!)
We know that children have wonderful, beautiful, spectacularly amazing brains! Have you ever watched your child and been astonished at all of the new things they are constantly learning? It seems like every day they point out something new and I am left wondering where they learned it.
It’s because babies are born ready to learn and one of the things they are wired to learn is language. We don’t actually have to teach our children to speak. They learn how to do so from observing and mimicking the world around them. While they are young, they have the capability to distinguish between and learn several languages using the exact same techniques.
Introducing a new language early increases the likelihood of children speaking like a native. However, it is never too late to begin learning a second language and the benefits are enormous.
2. Ongoing Brain Development
Learning more than one language can increase the size of the brain and it can also improve how the brain functions. In fact, research shows that people who speak multiple languages are better at standardized tests, planning and decision making, switching between tasks, understanding others and listening. They have better memories, impulse control, they are more creative and are better able to focus.
There was a time when people worried that teaching children more than one language would cause language delays and confusion. The science, however, has shown that this could not be farther from the truth. Learning a second (or third) language can actually give your brain a really good workout! In fact, studies even show that speaking multiple languages can stave off Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia in later life. The benefits of “working out your brain” with a second language are effective whether you started young or you are learning it as an adult.
3. Cultural Awareness
As I mentioned above, there was a time when teaching children a second language was thought to confuse them. Parents were discouraged from doing so and unfortunately many cultural ties were broken as a result of this misconception.
I was born in Venezuela and moved to the United States when I was eleven. I was raised in a bilingual environment, with my father speaking to me and my siblings in Spanish, and my mother in English. I want to ensure my daughters have a connection to their roots and I am re-creating the environment in which I grew up. I want them to learn Spanish, not just because of the cognitive benefits and the opportunities that it will open for them, but also so they can experience the rich cultural histories shared by Spanish speakers all over the world.
Learning about the world and developing empathy for other cultures is one of the biggest benefits of learning a second language. It’s the gateway to communicate with others and enables us to gain a deeper understanding of the world we share together. However, even if you do not speak a second language; I strongly encourage families to learn a new language together. Adults and children will definitely benefit from the experience.
Helping children to learn another language is not an easy task. It takes commitment, effort, and resources. That is why I am part of the Learn Safari Team. We are dedicated to helping children learn Spanish in a fun and interactive way. You can check out our unique application at www.learnsafari.com.
If you want to read up on some of the research on children and bilingualism, check the following links out: http://www.cal.org/earlylang/benefits/research_notes.html http://www.bbc.com/news/health-24446292 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121008082953.htm http://bebrainfit.com/brain-benefits-learning-second-language/)memory http://bebrainfit.com/brain-benefits-learning-second-language/
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