The cognitive advantages of bilingualism
Beyond the desire to pass one’s native language on to a new generation, there are other reasons to bring up bilingual children. “[Executive-function skills] predict long-term academic success and lifelong well-being,” Bialystok says. “There’s just nothing more important in terms of how this person is going to do in life.”
The myth of the sponge
But bringing up a bilingual child is hard—even more so due to a number of myths about language acquisition.
First, kids aren’t sponges. It takes a lot of work to get the child to speak and actually need a second language. Moreover, it takes longer to learn two languages than to learn just one, adds Hoff. So infants exposed to multiple languages from birth may have a slight speaking delay, although even they catch up quickly.
The linguistic survival battle
Another big myth of raising a bilingual child is the parents’ mistaken belief that it will be easy to make a second language the default one at home. A lot of kids would rather just speak English—particularly if it’s the primary one they use for interacting at school and with their friends.
While bilingualism is harder than it often sounds, there are steps parents can take to help their children become comfortable in multiple tongues. Experts recommend regular language exposure, lessons, trips to the home country, and, especially, interaction with native monolingual speakers.
I was blindsided when my child seemed to balk at the ways of her ancestors. Experts say the solution involves considering more than language. Another strategy is to wait for the child to come around on her own as she tests limits and experiments with independence and maturity.