A child’s ability to learn a second language during the early stages of their development is nothing short of remarkable and despite some of the frequent misconceptions surrounding young bilinguals, there are multiple benefits for children who are given the gift of mastering two languages at an early age.
In a bilingual family, teaching a child two languages at the same time is a relatively straightforward process as typically each parent will speak to their child exclusively in one language, so that both languages are learned concurrently.
Children thrive in this sort of situation, simply learning to speak in different languages to different parents. A child will readily accept that in English the family pet is a cat, whilst in French it is ‘le chat’ and will have the gift of two first languages from the very start.
What Motivates Parents To Develop Their Childs Language Skills?
Some parents are keen for their child to learn a language because it is part of their heritage and therefore a fundamental skill to pass on. This skill helps children to gain a greater sense of identity and it removes any potential language barriers that might otherwise prevent them from connecting and communicating with key family members in the future.
Other family’s interest in their child learning a second language early on is based on wanting the child to enjoy the many benefits of being bilingual. In the absence of another native speaker within the home, many families turn to bilingual caregivers and other professionals to provide early instruction in their chosen second language.
Myths Surrounding Milestones
Essentially, when you compare the vocabulary of an average two-year-old monolingual, with an average child of the same age who is, let us say a French-English bilingual; they will typically have a similar total vocabulary under their belt. The monolingual child may have a vocabulary of 100 words in his native language whilst the bilingual child has mastered a minimum of 50 words in English and 50 more in French.
Many people express concerns that bilingual children are held back developmentally somehow, by the strain of being exposed to two languages. This opinion is often formed because in the early stages, children have a lower word count in each respective language and will often combine both languages in the same sentence.
This initial confusion is perfectly normal and short lived as children very quickly learn to differentiate between the two languages. There may be a slight delay of a few months as a bilingual child is learning twice the amount of words and two different speech patterns, but the result of being able to converse efficiently in both languages later on is a significant advantage that makes any concerns over minor delays seem somewhat irrelevant!
What Are The Benefits?
- Educational Head Start – Foreign languages are a compulsory part of the curriculum in most schools and even if the language taught at school is different to your bilingual child’s second language, research has shown that having learned two different languages already, children are able to pick up additional new languages very quickly and easily.
- Cultural Awareness – Bilingual children are more aware and accepting of other cultures and those who are learning a heritage language additionally benefit from the emotional bonds that are created whilst communicating fluently to their loved ones.
- Increased Career Prospects – Fluency in a second language is an attractive skill for prospective employers, opening multiple doors for your child’s future career.
- Excellent Literacy Skills – Many bilingual children develop exceptional reading and writing skills thanks to their broad ranging language abilities.
Picking It Up Naturally
If you are keen for your little linguist to become fluent in a second language, the ideal scenario is to create a relaxed learning environment that will enable them to learn with the minimum of effort.
If there is no one within the home or close family who can give your child this input by communicating to him or her exclusively in another language on a regular basis, perhaps you could consider a bilingual Nanny or Governess to fulfil this role for you.
The more often your child is immersed in the second language the faster their language skills will develop, so enlisting a regular caregiver to pass on this gift is a highly effective way to give your little linguist a massive head start!