In the European Union, 56% of people, more than half, speak at least two languages. There are many households where one or both parents speak a different native language.
Is it a good idea to raise your kids to be bilingual? Should you put them in bilingual education? How can you support your kids as they forge ahead learning two languages at the same time? These are some of the questions parents struggle with which are addressed in this blog post.
Benefits of Bilingualism
Early linguists originally thought that learning two languages at the same time led to slight developmental delays. Unfortunately, this belief has stuck around though now researchers know that bilingualism helps to develop skills that can give children an advantage in the classroom.
Knowing which language to speak requires inhibition and task switching, which contributes to developing better attention. Figuring out with whom to use which language also develops empathy.
There is some evidence that active bilingualism makes structural changes in the brain that can help stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia in the elderly. Moreover, bilinguals who have Alzheimer’s continue to function at a higher rate than monolinguals, even when they have more brain damage.
What Is Bilingual Literacy?
So, learning a second language is a great idea — how about learning to read both? Another common misunderstanding is that speaking two languages makes learning to read difficult.
Again, research has found that this is not true. From being exposed to multiple languages from a young age, children actually have an easier time understanding word structure. This, in turn, heightens phonological awareness — an important pre-literacy skill.
Reading advantages of being bilingual vary depending on the two languages that the child speaks. For example, if a child speaks related languages like Spanish and Italian, they will have an easier time learning to read in both than in unrelated languages like English and Japanese.
How Parents Can Help
Putting kids in a bilingual classroom is perhaps one of the best ways parents can help their kids develop bilingual literacy. However, this option won’t be available to all parents.
If one or both parents speak a different language than that of your child’s school, focus on speaking this language in the home. They’re getting plenty of instruction in the school’s language so they need exposure to your language at home.
Some parents get discouraged when children mix up languages and stop teaching them, fearing they will stunt their education. Don’t do this! As children practice they will separate the two languages and surge forward in learning to speak, read, and write both.
Spend time reading to your kids in your target language. This is not only an excellent activity for helping them to develop language and reading skills, but also a great way for you to spend quality time with them. Kids will remember reading together fondly, a positive association that will help them want to learn to read.
Whatever your situation, reading games can help support kids’ development and help them learn to read faster. For example, GraphoGame is an app backed by research that can help children learn to read in a variety of languages including English, French, Chinese, Dutch and many others. It combines Finnish educational expertise (one of the best educational rubrics in the world) with top-level research in neuroscience.
Want to learn more? Don’t hesitate to check it out! Your kids will love learning to read with GraphoGame’s unique learning software.
Photo credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Project Director at GraphoGame