Dear Gaila - Benefits of Bilingualism
My 3 year old son will be starting nursery school next month. When his teacher heard that he was bilingual, she was not excited, to say the least. She claims that the two languages come on the expense of one another. I've heard this before, when my son was a late talker. However, I wasn't convinced that this was true, because there were other, monolingual, children who started speaking just as late, if not later. I know what you think - but what does science say? Should I really stop speaking English to my one year old?
Dear Bilingual Mom,
Don't stop! Keep on talking English to your children and enriching them! Nursery school teachers are notoriously misinformed. You asked me what science has to say about bilingualism. Well, besides the humongous advantage of knowing two languages (and cultures), there are many other advantages:
1) Brain development - You needn't bother spending your money on super fancy stimulating toys. Just speak to them in another language! Bilingual children have been shown to have superior executive function skills (the skills we use to do almost any demanding task. They are like the executive staff in our brain, managing and carrying out our tasks). When a child uses two languages, he has to switch rapidly between the two, find the correct terms in his lexicon storage and inhibit the inappropriate terms. (Ellen Bialystok has many papers on this. see for example here).
2) Social skills - yep, that's right! Being bilingual gives children extra insight into communication.
3) Health advantages - Being bilingual can have positive effects for recovery and prevention of age related diseases, such as strokes and dementia. Think about it - speaking two languages is like having a daily brain exercise!
Watch this video on different types and the advantages of bilingualism:
Let your child have the advantages of bilingualism - like most of the world wide population! that's right - most of the world is bi- or multilingual. You and your children are in good company.
Gaila has almost 40 year of experience teaching and runs A.H.A.V.A., a non-profit to promote English literacy. Would you like to ask Gaila a question? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a message. Look out for more Dear Gaila columns