As a non-native speaker living outside your country of origin, you may harbor concerns about teaching your children to speak multiple languages. Will they be able to pick up enough at school to get by in the local dialect? Will an accent stigmatize them? Will they forget or neglect their ancestral language even though it’s spoken in the home? How much of their cultural heritage resides in language, anyway? Is it better to help them to assimilate by speaking the local language 24/7? All of these are valid and pressing concerns when it comes to deciding if or how much you want to push your kids to learn multiple languages. But in the long run, you’ll be happy you did.
Teaching children to speak in multiple tongues is beneficial on many levels. For one thing, it’s a lot easier for them to pick up vernacular when they’re young, as the language center in the brain continues to develop until about the age of ten. A child’s mind is primed to assimilate information and the sooner they start learning, the better chance they have of attaining proficiency. Plus, infancy is the best time for mimicry, so it’s much easier for children to imitate the sounds of different languages now, before they lose the ability. Starting young is really the only way to ensure proper intonation and pronunciation, something that older kids and adults have a much harder time learning. And you don’t really need to worry about trouble in school. If you use more than one language at home while they are learning to speak, they’ll pick up both without ever needing to translate. Once they start school, they will be inundated with the local language and begin to advance much more quickly, so at that point you may actually want to go entirely native at home to reinforce early childhood lessons.
In addition, multi-linguistic children will benefit from enhanced cognitive development, placing them ahead of the pack when it comes to creativity, critical thinking, and overall mental flexibility. And while they are sure to show above average verbal and written skills, it may also allow them a better grasp of mathematics. In short, enforcing multiple-language learning in the home will benefit your children in many ways, and there are really no detriments. By encouraging them to learn multiple languages early on, you are providing them with more opportunity to succeed.
If you still think it may be better to get them proficient in the local language first and then worry about a second language later on, consider how they might feel as an adult. If they pick up their ancestral tongue later in life, they may never become proficient. They won’t be able to speak it like a native (as they will have lost the ability to imitate certain sounds) and unless they’re able to arrange a full immersion situation, they will always have to mentally translate. By choosing one language over another, you may be unnecessarily depriving your children of their linguistic heritage. Of course, it may be harder for you to teach in two languages at once, but your kids certainly deserve the effort.
About the Author: Thomas Warren is a content writer for Go College, one of the oldest and most trusted resources to guide students on how to finance and succeed in college.