Bringing up a multilingual child (or children) is hard work. It requires a plan, discipline and patience (a lot of it). To spice things up, there are some potential disadvantages to multilingualism. They may speak a bit later (my first did, my second is ahead of her age, so I doubt it’s the multilingualism), they may mix the languages (yes! Especially if they’re similar as in our case) and if you are striving for full literacy, you’ll have to go the extra mile to teach them.
However, there are so many advantages to raising your kids in a multilingual setting that they’re hard to put together in one post. If you are feeling discouraged about your multilingual decisions, here’s a list of 7 reasons why I believe that raising my kids multilingual is a great idea and you should be proud of it!
1. It helps you preserve your cultural heritage and family ties
A main concern of expat mums is the (mis)connection of their children with their birth culture. Developing a multilingual strategy and sticking to it is a great way of infusing your child with your own culture.
A great side effect of well-planned multilingualism is therefore a deeper connection with the minority language culture. By ‘culture’ I understand any aspect of the culture that the child thoroughly enjoys and thus is more likely to engage with. By making the language immersion interesting and motivating through cultural means, the child is able to generate their own identity in that language/culture.
What’s more, the idea of being able to communicate, engage and socialise with the extended family during family also acts as a motivator to cultivate the minority language. It becomes a sort of virtuous circle of language and culture/family.
2. It grants access to different cultures
This builds on the previous one. As you learn a different language to the majority language, new cultural horizons open up.
It is said that to have another language is to possess another soul. I believe that having access to that second, third or fourth language opens up a plethora of ways of viewing the world. Children who grow up with many languages are well aware of it. They know that there are people in the world who speak different languages and see the world differently, and they find it normal.
3. Assuming that different is normal
The cultural awareness that multilingual children helps them see that cultural variety is actually the norm in the world. Unlike monocultural children that might be imbued in their own culture alone, multilingual children know that things are done differently somewhere else. They know that things are called different somewhere else. Celebrations are different. And they don’t find it threatening.
This is a wonderful perk of multilingualism, the fact of changing one’s perspective and relationship with the world. Being able to see that most of the world does things differently than you and that that’s OK is, in my opinion, a trait that most world leaders should have. Perhaps the world would be doing much better if they did.
4. Heightened self-esteem
The relationship between multilingual proficiency and self-esteem has been established for a long time. These little walking dictionaries know they’re special. They know that it’s not common to speak so many languages, heck, we tell them so all the time. My kids are proud of speaking many languages, of being able to communicate and help people from a few different continents. I don’t want them to think that they’re at all superior to their unilingual friends, but I want them to realise how lucky and special they are.
5. Enhanced cognitive skills
Behind are the days in which people thought that exposing a child to a second language would somehow damage them. Today, you can find a wealth of scientific research on the subject of the enhancement of cognitive skills on a young brain exposed to several languages. Multilingual kids seem to have better attention and be better at multi-tasking than unilingual, mainly because they’re able to inhibit one (or more) languages when they’re using another one. This kind of cognitive function is key to academic success, which is a predictor of long-term health and well-being. I like how that sounds. Even if it cannot be guaranteed, I like the fact of giving them higher odds of being successful and happy. Out with the old, in with the new!
6. Protection against cognitive decline
It appears that the extra training performed by the brain in the childhood and adolescent years due to multilingualism create what is called cognitive reserve. This reserve has been shown to delay the onset of dementia in elder multilingual people. Pretty much because a multilingual brain is continuously trying to decide what language to use. The lack of exercise in body functions deteriorates them, that’s why athletes train and signers practice. But multilingualism is possibly the most constant practice that a human brain can go through. And they pretty much do it unconsciously, thanks to you! So, that’s something your kids should be thankful for.
7. Improved employability and impact
Although I think that languages are much more than just a few lines that look good in your CV, they will help them on their way through life. And even if it’s not to land that dream job that they wanted, or if they decide to take on the entrepreneurial route, the more languages they speak, the more people they’ll be able to touch with their message and work.
Any expat mum will tell you that keeping the consistency and putting in the work to raise a multilingual child is HARD WORK. We know it. But, it doesn’t have to be that painful! All you need is a clear plan and strategy.
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So there you have it. My personal favourite reasons to be proud (and not give up!) raising my kids multilingual. What are your reasons?