If you, like me, are trying to raise a bilingual kid I want to encourage you to read this article until the end because I’m going to reveal to you all the benefits of being bilingual. I promise I’m not making these things up. They’re real according to the most reliable Italian and European experts.
It was a huge AHA moment for me and I promise it’ll be the same for you!
There’s a very popular Italian tv show called Super Quark that I really like. Is it a nerd show? Yes, definitely. They talk about a lot of interesting things every week and in a recent episode they dove into the scientific proofs of what it means to be bilingual.
“Speaking correctly two languages means being also more efficient in other mental processes. In other words, being bilingual is a boost for brain development”Piero Angela – television host, science journalist and writer
In this article I’ll try to report and translate at best the benefits of being bilingual as listed in the mentioned episode, but right now I’d like to highlight a specific quote:
“In order to be able to to speak multiple languages, we use specific control areas inside our brain. Clearly those who frequently speak both languages strengthen these areas. And this strengthening makes the bilingual more performing also in other cognitive functions, not necessarily linguistic”Dr. Jubin Abutalebi – Expert in Cognitive science, Neuropsychology and Neurology
This statement honestly gave me the goose bumps.
As an Expat mom trying to raise a bilingual kid, I thought it was so encouraging. My son is a Halfblood (Harry Potter rules!!) who lives in an English-speaking environment and I always thought that trying to teach him to speak Italian was important for several reasons, such as:
- Pass on part of our culture
- Convey the love for my birth Country
- The chance to be able to communicate with his Italian relatives
- Giving him an extra skill to put on his resume
- The ability to open his mind to multiple cultures along with tolerance and respect
- and much more
Hearing a very respected professor confirming that there are other reasons besides being sentimental for which raising a bilingual kid is worth the effort,well.. It was very illuminating.
But let’s see what other benefits I discovered
The benefits of being bilingual
According to different scientific researches, including those listed in the mentioned episode, the pros of learning another language are potentially unlimited.
The reason is actually very simple.
Some of the advantages of bilingualism that we’ll see shortly lead to the development of specific skills, which, in turn, lead to others and so on. This enables a chain reaction that only the constant practice of both (or more) languages will maintain. Which doesn’t necessarily means speaking perfectlyboth languages, but practicing consistently in time without mixing them up.
Although, I have to say that when my 2 years old speaks “Itanglish” it’s kind of hilarious… But this is another mommy story 🙂
So let’s dive into these benefits of being bilingual, shall we?
- Increased brain gray matter visible through MRI. In those kids that start really young, otherwise called “early bilingual”, the constant practice of multiple languages leads to an increase in the brain development. Although, also “late bilingual” take advantage of a better neuronal activity when they use two or more languages without mixing them up.
- This brain growth gives them the ability to take decision faster. Which, in turn, it evolves into what we know as Problem Solving. How many job offers have you seen where problem solving is a necessary skills to obtain the job? A lot, right? But not only inside the workplace. On daily basis, the ability to decide or make a choice quickly, for example when an emergency occurs, is very important. Since we all know that life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, the more my son will be able to respond quickly to difficulties, the better.
- They respond better to external inputs (recognize easily sounds and voices). When my mother made me take private English lessons I was only 7, but I loved it. At the time English wasn’t a mandatory class in school but she’d foreseen that it would have become important for my future and she was definitely right, wasn’t she? 🙂 The teacher was amazing (veeeery patient, bless her heart) and I felt like it was like learning a new kind of “music”, so to speak. I just couldn’t wait for my lesson to come. I had a blast and it also gave me the chance to finally understand the words of all those English songs I loved so much. But back to the scientific proofs, it’s demonstrated that bilingual kids are able to recognize sounds and voice better than others and to respond accordingly. Meaning that one day my son, as soon as he ears my voice, will automatically switch to the Italian gear and vice-versa with his dad who’s American.
- More developed attention and focus abilities. Still tied to the Problem Solving skill, there’s also the ability to not get distracted by external inputs. It’s known that you can train this skill in many ways, but in this case it’s one of the side benefits of being bilingual. As well as when you’re learning to play an instrument. The person focuses on the sound she wants to produce and tries over and over again until she makes it. In the process, she doesn’t realize that she’s also learning how to stay focused for hours on one single task.
- Delay in the development of possible senile diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer. This really made my jaw fall on the floor, I gotta be honest. Learning that bilingualism is such a powerful training for our neurons, that even diseases like Alzheimer can delay up to 5 or 6 years was just incredible. This doesn’t mean that your bilingual kid one day will have Alzheimer or dementia. Unfortunately it might happen whether she’s bilingual or not. But if she is, she’ll have the extraordinary chance to fight the onset of symptoms for much longer. An hopefully by then, they’ll have discovered a cure for it.
- Creativity boost. Children who comprehend that a single object has multiple “names” (intended as way to call it), develop the ability of abstract thoughts. Generally this ability presents itself around 7 or 8 years old, but in the bilingual kid it’s a natural way of thinking way earlier than that. In short, for everything there are multiple alternatives. Which also goes back again to the problem solving. Basically they are more prone to thinking out of the box.
- More tolerance, respect and adjustment. At least this I got it right! 🙂 One of the benefits of being bilingual is that the child doesn’t force his own language to others. Instead, she opens up to the language used by whoever is in front of her and adjusts accordingly. As a consequence, she’ll develop more tolerance towards different languages, cultures or any other kind of diversity. In a family like ours and a multi-cultural world, this is like giving her the Aladin’s lamp, don’t you think? 🙂
- Learning more languages will be easier. Another benefits of being bilingual is that, once you learn one language, your brain is set to recognize the logic behind other languages, despite how different they could be. For this reason, learning the first language is considered way harder than learning a second or a third one. It’s easier for a bilingual to become trilingual (or more) by her own choice.
How to establish a good relationship with bilingualism
Who knows me knows that it’s very important for me to pass all these values to my son.
But it’s not so essential to become a stress.
If you’re trying to raise a bilingual kid and give her the opportunity to take advantage of all these benefits, you’ll understand why I’m consistently seeking new methods and inputs to motivate my son to speak the minority language.
Clearly we’re talking about kids here, so the best way to go is through educational activities that are also entertaining in some way. Sometimes, when the goal is important, it’s easy to forget the deepest meaning of playing.
For young children “to play” means experimenting, messing up, mashing up, testing rules and so on.
So being to severe when they’re really young assuming that they’ll learn grammatical rules, instead of letting them try, make mistakes and have fun with the languages can be very counterproductive.
Becoming bilingual is a long game!
Another good way is to use visualization. You might think that sounds are more important in languages, and they are, but images are what push babies to communicate first.
The child wants to give a name to what she sees, so that she can tell mama and daddy the object of her desire (food, water, ball, book, etc). Here’s where her primary need to communicate rise.
For bilingual kids it’s the same logic. Actually, through the use of images they can fill their vocabulary with words not so much used on a daily basis.
To give you a silly example, I really hope you don’t keep a lion in your home or a crocodile in your back yard, but nonetheless kids will learn these words through books, cartoons or flashcards, right? 🙂
The magical land of “words”
A one year old will never say something like: “Mommy, please, may I have some milk? If you don’t mind clearly” 😀
Most likely he’ll just point her finger and say: “Ma’, milk!”. If you already got to the “please” I’d consider that a huge win! Congratulations 😉
It clear then that the first thing that she learns are as many words as possible to make her own life easier.
Not so different when we’re talking about bilingualism
The more words she knows to express what she wants/desire in a given moment, the more her day will go smoothly. Sounds about right?
Have you also noticed that kids like to give multiple names to things? Surely it’s a fantasy game they do to experiment and learn. For example when they make a specific sound to recall an animal or object.
So, go on mama!! Free your imagination and create, read, craft! The more visual input, the easier (and more fun) the process will be! 🙂
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