Nowadays, with globalization and the intensification in the international mobility of people, and even with the intense use of the internet as a form of communication, such social transformations have occurred that have facilitated the creation of, more and more frequently, couples coming from different nationalities that in most cases have different cultures and languages. The bilingual families they face some difficulties in educating their children. One of the most frequent doubts that assail them is how to introduce the two languages to children.
Due to the boom in the formation of this type of families with such a heterogeneous cultural and linguistic background, it is possible to find more and more family models in which:
- Each parent speaks a language and lives in the country of one of them.
- Each parent speaks a language and they live in a different country than theirs (of the 2).
- Both parents speak a language, which is different from where they live.
This type of families they are the so-called 'bilingual families' where children will be the most benefited since they will be raised in an environment where learning and the acquisition of skills such as thinking and expressing themselves fluently in several languages are facilitated, among other advantages.
When children are raised very early in an environment where education is bilingual, they obtain multiple advantages in their evolutionary development. There are multiple studies that support the existence of benefits such as:
- Cognitive flexibility
As babies, children begin to differentiate languages by rhythm, cadence, or voice. As the little ones grow up and are exposed to different languages, they get to know them and become fluent to the point of learning the ability to block one language in favor of the other. That ability to be able to analyze the situation and to be able to constantly control the blocking or the use of the language that best suits you according to the context is what makes you have more flexibility in your brain.
- Capacity of attention
The cognitive flexibility that the child acquires gives him a greater ability to focus. Thus, the child is able to concentrate more easily on what matters in the task, blocking out distractions and adapting easily to changes.
- Improve your communication
Bilingual children exercise their memory from a very young age, something that in the long term implies an improvement in their ability to relate to other people. Thanks to this exercise, when the bilingual child is talking to another person, he is able to notice, in addition to the words: in the environment, the tone of voice of the other person, the body language and has a global perspective of the conversation. This makes communication more fluid and effective.
- The development of degenerative diseases in the brain is avoided
Exercising the brain of children by learning other languages makes bilingual children more stimulate their brain and therefore have a greater density of gray matter in some areas of their brain. This causes the ability to regenerate connections between neurons.
- Critical thinking
Starting from the premise: 'language is first, then thought' we understand that bilingual children will develop the ability to have various perspectives on things. That is, when they develop the awareness of discerning between various languages, they use the ability to think and act from another point of view.
Introducing the child to bilingualism is a challenge. Therefore, it is important that if we want the little one to be bilingual, we need a plan. In other words, little ones don't learn two languages by magic. Proper conditions must be provided for the child to grow up learning the languages spoken in the family. For this to happen they need the help of the environment. It will be important that:
1. Learning is not forced
Language learning should happen naturally. To achieve this, the child has to be motivated, see learning as something fun.
2. One parent, one language
It is important that each parent - if each uses a different language - speak to the child in their own language. If the language of one of them is also spoken in the country where they live, this language will be the majority.
It is important that parents are regular when it comes to using languages. If the minority language-speaking parent mixes languages, there is a higher risk that the child will prefer to choose the majority language to communicate because they learn that it is more useful. In all cases in which the two parents speak the same language in another country or the parents speak different languages and in the country where they live as well, the solution will be regularity and patience when teaching the minority language.
4. Use all kinds of resources
It is not worth just that each parent speaks their language. A context will need to be 'fabricated' for the child to see that both languages are important. To do this, you can follow conversations via Skype, visit the country where the minority language is used, find a play group where that language is spoken, multimedia material, etc.
5. Bad advice has no place
Educating children in bilingualism is a difficult task. There will be times when children mix languages, grammatical structures, etc. - something normal up to 4 years. This fact makes it appear that they are confused and do not know. It is normal, but the environment will begin to 'pressure' if this happens and everyone will give their opinion. Parents should not be skeptical and only listen to professionals or other parents who have been through the same situation.
6. Beware of corrections
It is normal for bilingual children to develop language more slowly compared to those who only learn one language. This is because bilinguals reverse the order of the words and mix structures, instead they know and understand perfectly what they want to say. When they get confused, it is important to correct in a very subtle way and not be abrupt as the child can inhibit speaking.
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