If you’ve ever asked yourself ‘what is bilingual?’ or ‘What does bilingualism mean?’ then you’re about to get your answer and it’s packed full of positive results. Bilingualism is the ability to speak two languages with great fluency. The benefits are multiple – social advantage, cognitive advantage and greater self-esteem to name but a few.
The earlier you learn – the easier it is
Research shows that learning another language is easiest in the formative years – between the ages of 2 and 7 years. The brain is designed to learn language during this time and will do so with greater ease than at any other time. Being immersed in language also makes it easier to learn so parents should seek situations that will support this.
Parents who want to provide the advantages of bilingualism to their children will often hire a child-minder who is able to speak one or even both languages that the parent is striving for the child’s fluency in. Surprisingly, children’s brains learn how to sort through language so that they know which words to use when. In the early days they may get muddled, but that’s not something to be concerned about – it’s all part of the journey.
The keys to another culture
When it comes to the social advantage – bilinguals hold the keys to the doors of another culture. Their employment opportunities will be greater too.
Greater mental health
Cognitive advantage can be found with improved ability to solve problems and of course in the forestalling of symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s also been discovered that bilinguals are better at multi-tasking than monolinguals.
How to teach your child a second language
If you are not a speaker of the 2nd language, then not to worry – there are ways that you can still teach your child. There are plenty of tools that you can use that will do the teaching for you. Books, DVDs, CDs and flashcards can all help your child to learn another language. There are also classes that you can sign your child up for.
After your child has grasped the basics then you could look into hiring a tutor to continue the learning. You might find these on offer at international schools or through a private tutor. Alternatively, you could hire a child minder whose primary language is the one that you want your child to learn. They’ll be able to immerse your child in the language and train their brains for you. Then you can spend time playing simple games with your child to support their learning.
Exposing your child to the culture of that language is another way to help it stick. If your child is learning French, then each week you can cook a French meal. The only language to be spoken during that time is French – keep it fun and turn it into a game. Remember that everybody learns faster when it’s fun!
With a little bit of effort, before long you’ll have a baby bilingual on your hands and you’ll be in a position to provide a demonstration to the question, ‘what is bilingual’!