Why Your Child Should Be Multilingual
My first year teaching abroad in Egypt was a dream for me because I was willfully entering a country in which I had minimal knowledge of the language. Even better, the locals spoke a more colloquial version of Arabic than the kind I had practiced in my childhood. I would force myself to go to street markets and local shops to test my ability to implement what I was learning daily. I also enlisted my students and co-workers to talk to me strictly in Arabic so that I could truly understand the phonetics, structure and conjugations.
Oftentimes, I’d tell my students how envious I was of them because they were multilingual, and the idea of speaking many languages was not a part of my upbringing in America. Some of them spoke German and French effortlessly, in addition to English and Arabic. I confided in them the importance of practicing and implementing their knowledge of languages wherever and whenever they got a chance. It was also imperative that I created a similar environment for my own son to learn languages because of the many advantages.
Although knowing one language does not make anyone lesser of a human being, it does separate them from the benefits that come with being multilingual. Based on statistics and much research, being multilingual for the next generation is highly recommended — and here’s why.
Creates Global Connectivity
The next generation has already begun to connect with each other due to the creation of social media platforms. A part of that connection is being able to communicate with each other, outside of one’s native tongue.
With more than 7 billion people that inhabit the planet and 6,500 languages that exist, it’s important that our children have an understanding of how we are all interconnected. Also, it’s vital to be aware of how we can affect each other based on what we know or misconceptions we have about one another.
Knowledge of Culture
Having knowledge of others cultures creates a bigger sense of community and empathy. When I taught in Egypt, my students would often tell me that people, via social media, would ask them if they rode camels to school, among other insanely insensitive and ignorant questions.
Even though we would laugh at such silly notions, it also made me aware that not everyone understands different cultures, the way they live and how they see the world. Exposing new generations to a multitude of languages provides a look into history as well as customs and traditions from within certain cultures.
Generates Mutual Respect
Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
As hectic as it is, worldwide, having generations that are truly connected to the world and knowing more about the array of cultures that exists can also bring about a mutual respect and tolerance that is needed for others. Dr. Asim Shah, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, believes that talking and learning about others cultures becomes the result of having put aside any prejudices and biases creating an opening for peace and equality.
Increases Brain Function
The study of brain function in multilingual versus monolingual people have been carried out for decades. Many scientists believe that knowledge of more than one language enhances cognitive function in the brain.
Upon running cognitive tests on children, Dr. Yang Hwajin found that even babies who could not speak but were exposed to other languages outperformed other babies who were not exposed to various languages. Her findings showed that the simplicity of overhearing multiple languages earlier made a significant impact on the babies’ cognitive functions.
The Earlier, the Better
Exposing children to foreign languages when they are young tends to be the best route due to their ability to soak up everything like a sponge. The fear of making mistakes or saying something incorrectly tends to inhibit children from being open and receptive to the learning exercises. Prior to the age of five, most children are not distracted by these fears, which can make the process much easier and fluid for them to pick up the language.
Secondary and tertiary languages learned earlier are oftentimes picked up as easily as the child’s mother tongue.
Better Tests Scores
According to research, the mind of a student that speaks more than one language, develops much differently than that of a monolingual child. College Board has long-standing, backed reports that show how language learning enhances academic achievement. Students who have spoken more than one language have, statistically, performed better than their monolingual counterparts.
In another study conducted over a 12-year period, students who were multilingual showed two to three times more progressive results in core subjects like reading and mathematics. This being a direct result of the functioning of the child’s brain and improved problem-solving skills.
Higher Potential Salaries
For the many people who are not blessed with a substantial generational inheritance of wealth, working to make ends meet is a reality. However, providing our children with the means of creating better opportunities for themselves exists through exposing them to learning languages outside of English.
Both Forbes and Time magazines have reported that people who speak multiple languages have an increased chance to earn more, in the professional world. Interpreters and translators are occupations that are always in high-demand, but can also be incorporated into other career paths such as entrepreneurship, marketing/sales, education and medicine.
As we watch our children learn, we are also witnessing them grow. As they increase their knowledge and master new subjects, tasks and skills, they become confident and have a more positive outlook toward themselves.
The mastery of new languages has the ability to boost children’s intellectual, social and emotional needs without the desire of additional external validation or reward. Raising happy and confident children is something all parents are striving to achieve.
Connect to Their Own Heritage
For the generation of children who are birthed to parents or grandparents whose native language is other than English, learning multiple languages can attach them to their own lineage.
There is often a separation between generations due to a lack of ability to effectively communicate because of language barriers. Having connectivity to one’s heritage produces pride, cultural identity and bridges a gap between older generations of non-native English speakers to the younger generation.
Increases Native Language Skills
As the next generation begins to adapt to new languages, their native language skills increase. Not all languages are created equally, which requires the use of an array of sounds and accents that may require extra emphasis not normally used in one’s native language.
People who practice speaking languages also have the ability to enunciate and pronounce words in their native tongue much better.
Better at Multitasking and Listening
We are in an age where technology is constantly evolving and the world is becoming more laxed. By adopting the ability to speak more languages, the next generation can also improve their multitasking skills. Typically, people who can bounce from one language to another can also apply this in their daily lives.
Furthermore, due to learning what to listen for can also make children better listeners. The brain of a multilingual person works harder to differentiate between sounds, making it more likely for them to also have better comprehension skills.
Become More Inept to Travel
As traveling becomes a more centralized goal and priority for many families, having knowledge of other languages gives children more of a desire to want to go to other places. The expectation of everyone understanding or speaking English is an easy road to disappointment, if looking to make use of a passport.
With Mandarin (Chinese) being the most widely spoken language in the world and Spanish being second, it’s imperative to know that knowledge of those languages creates a yearning of going where the people speak the most.