How To Raise a Bilingual Child in a Monolingual Household [Backed by Science]
In the discussion about how to raise a bilingual child in a monolingual household there are many different voices, more than a few myths, and the facts supported by science.
This article focuses on what science says about raising a bilingual child and how you can do it in your monolingual household.
Keep reading to learn about the advantages to raising your child as a bilingual person and the best way to do it. We will also explore some of the most-used strategies to raise your child in two languages even if you come from a monolingual culture.
Finally, I’m also addressing the myth of speech delay—how your child’s confusion in Spanish will affect their speaking process—and how bilingualism affects your child’s development.
All of that, backed by science, linking to the studies that prove each one of the affirmations included in this post.
Why You Should Raise a Bilingual Child
There are many reasons to raise bilingual children. Sometimes the parents speak different languages and it simply becomes a necessity. In other cases, parents speak the same language but live in a community where a different language is predominant—which is the situation for many immigrants around the world.
But how about raising a bilingual child not out of necessity, but for the added benefits that a bilingual education brings?
The research shows that as much as 80% of Americans think that children should learn a second language, which is in itself a reflection of the globalized world we live in these days and a recognition of the value of languages.
What Is the Best Way To Raise a Bilingual Child?
There’s no one way to raise a bilingual child. Many different strategies exist and you need to choose the right ones according to your specific situation.
I’ll introduce you to some of these strategies in a minute, but at the end it all comes down to two things: exposure and need.
Think about how you taught your children their first language. What did you do? Hard to remember, right? You just exposed them to the language and they felt the need to learn it to interact with the world around them. That’s exposure and need. The same thing happens with a second language.
The question then becomes how to create that exposure and need for your bilingual child in a monolingual household?
How To Raise a Bilingual Child in a Monolingual Household
Exposing your child to their native language wasn’t that difficult as you just had to talk in your own language, watch TV in English, and basically go along with your life as usual. But knowing how to teach your child a language you don’t know isn’t that easy.
The following are some useful strategies to raise a bilingual child in a monolingual household backed by science:
Research shows that early childhood is the best time to learn a second language. Young children are better second language learners than adults, and the sooner you start the better.
However, how do you do it if you don’t speak the language?
A good idea is to hire a nanny from a foreign country who speaks the desired language. They will expose the language to your baby or young kid in a natural way.
Bilingual Daycare or School
Another way to expose your child to a second language is to enroll them in a bilingual daycare or education center.
An interesting studio made in Spain, showed that babies and young kids benefit from being in an early bilingual learning environment.
Perhaps you can’t raise a child in Spanish yourself, but you either can bring someone to your home to do it for you, or bring your child to a Spanish environment where they will get the exposure they need.
Books, Films, Games, Music, Groups, Playgrounds
If the idea is to raise your child in Spanish and expose them as much as possible to this language, you need to get them all kinds of Spanish resources.
- Books (important to be able or have someone able to read them)
- Films and TV shows in Spanish
- Games (board games, memory games, and even online games)
- Music in Spanish
Find groups of parents in the same situation as you or maybe of Spanish-speaking parents who gather together to keep exploring the benefits of raising a bilingual child.
Finally, following that same logic, perhaps you can find a playground frequented by Spanish-speaking people, where your child may be able to practice what they have learned.
How Not To Raise a Bilingual Child in a Monolingual Household
I thought it was important to add a brief section about what not to do when raising a bilingual child in a monolingual household.
About this, the best piece of advice I can give you is to follow the science and ignore the many myths about bilingualism.
Because there are several worries expressed by parents curious about bilingualism—which are understandable and important to get an answer to—I will address them ahead.
However, you know the internet is a resonance box for all kinds of takes and opinions. The problem with this is that it doesn’t differentiate between serious, professional research done by scientists, linguists, and psychologists, and well, everything else.
If you’re really into bilingualism for your child, do your own research and find studies such as this one, that focus on separating common myths from scientific findings about early bilingualism, or this one, that concludes that bilingualism “does not lead to confusion nor does it have any inherent negative impact on development.”
Do Children in Bilingual Households Talk Later?
This is one of the often-repeated questions about raising a bilingual child. If I raise my child in two languages, will they start talking later?
The logic behind this question is valid, as kids are exposed to a wider range of words and expressions, they may need more time to process all of that, which could result in a delay in establishing the mechanisms that produce speech. However, research shows that “both monolingual and bilingual children meet language developmental milestones within the same time frames.”
Nationwide Children’s, a blog run by pediatric experts says it clearly, “[…] research has dispelled this myth. Children are able to learn two languages at the same pace as other children who are learning only one language.”
How Does Growing Up in a Bilingual Household Affect a Child?
Well, perhaps my bilingual child won’t experience speech delay, but can they be affected in any other way by growing up in a bilingual household?
The truth is that yes, raising a bilingual child does affect their development but in a positive way. Research has shown that bilingualism may have a positive effect on some cognitive abilities such as a better development of executive functioning (EF). EF is a set of cognitive skills that include inhibitory control, attention shifting, and working memory.
Other benefits of bilingualism backed by science include being quicker at shifting attention and detecting visual changes, adapting better to a more varied and unpredictable language environment, enhanced sensitivity to certain features of communication (such as tone of voice), and even having an advantage in certain aspects of memory.
Follow the Science and Raise a Bilingual Child at Home
Scientists, linguists, and psychologists agree, raising a bilingual child has a lot of benefits. It doesn’t matter if it happens in a monolingual household or a bilingual one.
The point is that raising your child in two languages is a great gift that will serve them for their whole life. The question then is: why wouldn’t you want to do it?
Besides all of the pros discussed above about a multilingual child development in terms of cognitive skills and linguistic benefits, raising a bilingual child has other important benefits that we may take for granted, such as how speaking a second language opens doors for better jobs, makes traveling easier, and helps in making friends from different backgrounds.
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