By Kristy Roser Nuttall
I am fascinated by the topic of language learning. My boys have been my guinea pigs for a bilingual approach ever since they were born. I talk, sing, tell stories, give directions, play games, and do as much communicating as possible in both English and Spanish. Sometimes it drives them completely bonkers, and I hear cries of “No more Spanish mom!” But now that they are a little older, they realize that because of their crazy mom, they can actually understand two languages, and that is pretty cool—especially when they meet someone from a Spanish speaking country, and they can say more than taco, burrito, and adios amigo.
When he was a baby, my son Isaac loved to point at the moon and say, moon! Luna! And sometimes he would combine the two and say “muna!” I knew that he was just playing with language when he came up with his “muna” pronouncement, and now he has no problem going between English and Spanish vocabulary without blending them into a funky word sandwich. People used to worry that teaching kids more than one language would be too taxing on their brains and lead to cognition problems, but now research has confirmed that the opposite is true. Even though kids might initially mix languages or have minor linguistic bumps in the road, learning more than one language actually leads to a significant cognitive advantage—not a disadvantage.
My husband and I are both native English speakers, but because we also speak Spanish, we wanted to give our children the gift of bilingualism—and it truly is a gift. Giving your child exposure to another language—whether they are newborns, toddlers, big kids, or teenagers—will be an advantage that they will carry with them throughout their lives.
Key advantages of being bilingual or multi-lingual
- More powerful brains: Seriously, when your kids are exposed to other languages, it changes the wiring of their brains. Rapid synaptic connections are established because the brain has to interpret two incoming communication systems. This constant filtering and interpretation of multiple meanings and systems improves the executive function of the brain. The brain’s executive function is the headquarters for decision making, planning, self-control, and focus. Studies have shown the bilingual children outperform their monolingual peers on various tasks that involve decision making and filtering out outside distractions.
- Cultural Awareness and Sensitivity: Children who have the opportunity to learn more than one language are learning more than new words—they are learning a culture. Language and culture just go together like peanut butter and jelly. Kids realize that this language is tied to a country with various holidays, food, ideas, and beliefs that are likely different from their hometown. When they use the language while experiencing these aspects of culture, they come to better appreciate what it means to be connected to a world family and show respect for people with various backgrounds.
- More Opportunities: Let’s be honest, if you can communicate with more people, you definitely have more options! Kids who have the bilingual advantage are able to connect with a wider range of study and work possibilities. Knowing another language might be the one thing that sets them apart from another candidate for a job or student. Bilingual people often out earn their monolingual peers as well.
- It Keeps Your Brain Sharp: Studies have shown that people who are bilingual have minds that are less susceptible to mental diseases such as dementia. In old age, a bilingual brain gets a vigorous work out by switching between languages and this stimulates the grey matter of the brain and prevents cells from degenerating.
But how to start exposing your kids to another language?
- Make it fun! Kids learn language by incorporating it into everyday activities. Try cooking with your child and using the target language—talk about the ingredients, sing silly songs, or do a scavenger hunt in another language for the ingredients at the store or in your kitchen.
- Find movies, audiobooks, video games, and language learning software in the language you want your kids to learn. There are educational computer programs available for all major languages and often free ones you can access through your library.
- Befriend native speakers! Go to a restaurant or local store where that language is spoken and let your kids practice with native speakers. You could also start a local group for learners of English and the language your kids are learning for a linguistic exchange opportunity.
- Label things around your house in both languages. Go on a “tour” every morning and night and say good morning and good night to these objects in both languages.
- Create puppets or have special action figures that ONLY speak the other language. Reward your child by using a star chart or marble jar for any attempt they make to communicate in the language.
- Talk about numbers and colors in both languages as much as possible. Count when you’re going up stairs, going in the elevator, driving, playing sports, etc. Point out the colors of clothing, food, and any object of interest.
- Make a weather and calendar chart and talk about the weather and different days of the week and dates each day in both languages.
- Play games! Pictionary, bingo, charades, and other games are a great way to engage kids in learning different vocabulary sets. Also having a fun little prize can be very motivating.
- Sign your kids up for a class or camp that exposes them to a new language. They will make new friends as well as have the opportunity to hear native speakers and be surrounded by other people with the same goal of learning another language—positive peer pressure!
So there you have it. The bilingual advantage is a reality, and it’s never too early and it’s never too late to start your kids on the pathway to learning a foreign language. Make this summer the summer you ditch your monolingual ways and jump in with both feet to the pool of multilingual magic. Share any thoughts or ideas for exposing your kids to more languages in the comments section. Gracias! ขอขอบคุณ, Merci! Grazie, ありがとうございました, Danke, 谢谢,धन्यवाद
Check out www.iquriouskids.com for more information on Spanish classes in Houston, French classes in Houston, Chinese classes in Houston, English classes in Houston, and more.
At Language Kids World, they are passionate about languages and multiculturalism, and teaching them to children in fun and meaningful ways. They are currently offering Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and French and language acquisition programs for children at dozens of schools, preschools, after school classes, and summer camps. They also specialize in tutoring children in many other languages, including English as a second language (esl classes).