Why Should Your Children Be Bilingual?, by Bet Key Wong

Bet Key Wong, an Asian American mother, gives us a straight-forward, no-nonsense look at the value of teaching your child a second language early in life. Ms. Wong also includes suggestions on how to encourage your child as(s)he endeavors to become bilingual.

One in three U.S. elementary schools offers foreign language classes in 1997. That’s a nearly 50% increase over the last 10 years. While the percentage of secondary schools teaching foreign language remains stable, the number of pre-schools and elementary schools with foreign language programs is on the rise.

The growing interest in learning foreign languages at an early age is not surprising. Many studies have shown that there are educational and social advantages of being bilingual and multilingual. In fact, foreign languages have been recognized as part of the "core" curriculum in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act.

Since there are a lot of educational programs that compete for children’s time and interest, why should foreign languages be part of young children’s development?

Language experts say that timing is very important in children’s ability to acquire foreign language skills. Here are some reasons:

  1. A child taught a second language after the age of 10 is unlikely to speak like a native.
  2. Children have the natural ability to develop new language skills more naturally than do adults. This natural capacity diminishes by age 6 and disappears by puberty.
  3. Recent brain research studies show that the brain develops the most in the first three years of a person’s life. Exposing your children to another language actually stimulates their brain cells. Studies have shown that multilingual children have stronger problem solving and analytical skills than monolingual children. They score higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and achieve a higher grade point average. Multilingual children are more creative than monolingual children because they have learned that there are different ways in expressing oneself, describing an event or labeling an item.
  4. Common sense tells us that the longer you do something, the better you will be at it. Learning a foreign language is no exception. Why not give your children a jumpstart?

Besides the educational reasons, there are many social advantages. Your children will respect, appreciate and understand people outside of their home culture. They will have the ability to communicate with people from different cultures and language backgrounds. This leads to more opportunities to different jobs and personal pursuits. The ability to speak multiple languages enable many Americans to work with new immigrants, connect with their own heritage and engage in global communication.

Parents plays an important role in helping their children to learn a foreign language. Here are some ways how parents can help:

First, set a target foreign language. Chinese? Spanish? French?

  • Have a positive and supportive attitude. Show interest and give praises.
  • Do not force your child to learn the foreign language. Ensure that you provide a fun and engaging environment at which your child would like to explore the foreign language on his/her own.
  • Increase your child’s exposure to the second language as much as you can. Join a local community organization or parents’ group whose members speak the foreign language. Enroll your child in a bilingual pre-school or elementary school. Hire a babysitter who speaks the foreign language.
  • Form a playgroup with other children who speak the foreign language.
  • Learn the foreign language with your child. Enroll in a parent-child foreign language class.
  • Learn to sing songs in the foreign language.
  • Create a home library of bilingual books so that you can read together.
  • Use multimedia software to enhance comprehension of the foreign language. Collect children’s videos in the foreign language and watch the videos together.
  • Watch bilingual children’s TV shows. Use a bilingual dictionary to look up words in the foreign language.
  • Read books and magazines in the foreign language. Use a dictionary to look up words.
  • Play games that use phrases in the foreign language. Take trips to places where people speak the foreign language.
  • Take a local trip or tour with foreign tourists.

This article was orginally published on www.familyculture.com