Magazine: Bilingualism

What are the advantages of learning several languages from an early age? What are the dangers? What’s the best way to teach your child two or more languages simultaneously?

Do the preparation task first. Then read the article and do the exercise.

Being the mother of two potentially bilingual children (the youngest is only three months old) and the teacher of French and English bilingual children, the subject of bilingualism is very important to me. In fact, we have recently moved to China and are now considering multilingualism. But what are the advantages of learning several languages from an early age? What are the dangers? What’s the best way to teach your child two or more languages simultaneously? I don’t suggest I have the answers here, but like most mothers and teachers I certainly have a point of view!

What is a bilingual child?

The way I see it, being bilingual means being able to communicate almost perfectly in two languages and also knowing something about both cultures. If I take the example of my daughter it’s about being able to understand when someone is speaking another language and being able to switch automatically into speaking it with them. At two and a half she has already grasped the concept of ‘Daddy speaks French and Mummy speaks English.' She has even picked up that Bai Yuoine speaks Chinese! I think it’s very important for her to know that the cartoon character Noddy is also called Oui Oui by her friends at playgroup and that Marmite and Cadbury's chocolate exist as well as croissants. This is what makes it possible for her to communicate with the people around her regardless of whether they are French or English.

Why encourage bilingualism?

In our case it is logical that with an English mother and French father our children should be able to speak both languages to communicate, not only with us but with their grandparents and extended family. On a wider scale, learning two or more languages helps children to accept cultures other than their own. If speaking their mother tongue(s) at home and at school is encouraged, they are more likely to enjoy their difference and view difference in general as a positive thing.

How do you raise a bilingual child?

There may be a dominant language and this will normally depend on the country you live in or the language your child uses most at school. However, it will also depend on what language is spoken in the home. We lived in France and spoke French at home but I always speak to my children in English. It’s imperative that the child has consistency. They know that their English auntie will always speak to them in English and that for her to understand them they should speak to her in English.

What are the dangers?

It can be very difficult for people around you to support what you do. Grandparents can be upset if they don’t understand what you’re saying to their grandchild and worry that they will never be able to communicate with them. This is of course highly unlikely and you should stick to your guns.

Another problem we have encountered was when our daughter refused to listen to either of us. A psychologist advised us that as there wasn’t a common language at home between the parents and child, I should stop speaking English and spend the weekend speaking only in French. Thankfully I decided to ignore this piece of advice and persisted with my English!

I also know of one child who had problems at school because his friends made fun of him. His parents eventually gave up speaking English to him. Unfortunately children can be cruel, and differences, whatever they may be, are often a source of bullying. Differences need to be promoted and valued, and celebrations such as the International Mother Language Day help to do just that.

International Mother Language Day

The first Mother Language Day was celebrated internationally on 21 February 2000. However the importance of this date originated in Bangladesh where in 1952 a handful of students, now known as language martyrs, were killed in demonstrations defending Bangla, their mother language. In 1999 UNESCO decided to take this cause to an international scale in order to encourage cultural diversity and worldwide tolerance.

The themes

Each year the celebration is devoted to a different aspect of language. This has ranged from how children learn their literacy skills at school to how to preserve some of the 6,000 languages that exist worldwide. One year was about developing the teaching of mother languages, and in 2002 the celebration helped raise awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions around the world. This year the International Mother Language Day is dedicated to Braille and Sign Language, two non-verbal languages that are an invaluable source of communication for many people around the world.

A multilingual community

It’s essential that we limit alienation throughout the world. By speaking other languages as well as your own, or having two or more mother languages, you can contribute to the creation of a global community. My contribution to this multilingual community is exposing my children to varied cultures and languages, maintaining their mother language, while trying to learn the language of the people around me. Although with my ten or so words of Mandarin I am far from being multilingual!

Discussion

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Comments

Hello,
I reckon this article is very interesting. We should pay attention to bilingualism because in the contemporary time is absolutely normal that child has parents from another countries (the world is so endless). These children have lots of advantages for the future and also wild views of others cultures around them, therefore they can be more polite and literate then others. 

Hello :) ...In my opinion this article is really interesting. Although there are some disadvantages of "bilingualism" I think that it is really useful in nowadays. If i could choose, I would have chosen this way because how I already told its useful, important and cool :). So I think I quiet envy this people. However I can speak only one language, I have to try learn more to find some quality job or to move somewhere abroad. And that is the reason why I have read this article. I have to learn more and more! 

Hi,
this article is very interesting for me and I think, that this article very well describes people lives in the bilingualism´s families. In my opinion, these kids have got a great advantage in knowledge of languages, which is today very needed.

Hi everyone!
I have to say that this article is really interesting to me. If I had parents who are different nationality, it would be easier for me to speak both languages. Unfortunately my parent are both Czechs so my only chance to learn for example English, is going to school. I know a couple of people who have mixed parents. It's very good experience for children. They can learn more about their cultures, languages and of course more about their entire families. I envy them a little. They are lucky because they can speak two languages easily and fluently. If I had a choice, I want to have child who will be bilingual.

Hi there!
I found this article about bilingualism pretty interesting and informative. Knowledge of more languages could be advantage for everyone and it´s nice, that some children have opportunity to learn about different countries, their languages and culture from parents which was raised on different places. Maybe, it´s quite hard to manage that home situation. I mean - divide which language is spoken where, with who and so on, but if parents master it, children have wonderful possibility to expand their knowledge and all disadvantages are getting lost.

Hi all,
I found this article quite interesting and I think bilingualism can be a really great thing for the children. However their parents have to manage with the situation and agree on many details about bringing up a child. After that their children can have a wonderful childhood and more wonderful life with speaking fluently two languages.
If I could choose, I would prefer for my children being bilingual, but it is in the stars.

Hello, I´am here for the first time. The article is very important for me. I certainly agree with these opinion. Bilingualism isn´t concern me because both of my parent are Czech so I have learnt English at school only. I have never been in England and other English speaking countries. I think that child whose parent are of different nationality has huge advantage. I know that children learn and understand things faster and easier than adults.They don´t worry about anybody, they aren´t afraid of anything. Speaking two languages has definitely only advantages no disadvantages.

Hello!Good  day!I'm Jane(it's my 2nd  english name)And i'm from Kazakhstan.This is country  where  people  should speak  in three languages perfectly it's kazakh,russion and english.

Hi! I am new here. 
Completely agree with the article! I speak spanish, portuguese , now try to learn italian. Now when I travel I fell more confident, than before, bilingualism allows you to know another culture, learn new things, expand the bounds of our knowledge.

Hi, I am very much hopeful after listen and see this text because our mother language, Bengali, is placed in UNESCO's encourage as well as  accept it internationally for celebrate as a "Mother language Day" in each year. I am really grateful, as a citizen of Bangladesh, to British Council for placing this topic in this podcast. Thanks a lot. 

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