Many scientific studies have concluded that bilingualism or multilingualism will bring far more benefits to kids, not only in their brain development, but also in the opportunities and choices they will encounter in adulthood, be it in their education, career or leisure.
As a mother and a native Mandarin speaker, I have witnessed my young daughter’s almost daily improvements in understanding both in Chinese and English. Indeed both my native British husband and I have been thrilled by our daughter’s ability to understand and respond to both languages.
Even at the age of 12 months she had grasped an understanding of several words, and at a little over 16 months can clearly understand and respond to sentences in both languages.
I myself started learning English in China as a second language as a teenager. And although being fully bilingual, I still encounter difficulties with my second language.
In short, the earlier one learns a second language, the better. In the US, studies have shown that bilingualism has tremendous cognitive and social benefits compared to speaking only one language.
Furthermore those brought up bilingually often have better concentration, cultural awareness, increased creativity, problem solving, multitasking skills, and advantages in finding jobs later in life.
Many parents believe that teaching a second language too early is confusing and that the child might not be able to differentiate between the two.
There is also the concern amongst some parents that children raised bilingual take a little longer to start talking than those raised in monolingual households. This has been observed but the delay is temporary and, according to many experts, it's not a general rule.
Of course there will undoubtedly be a mixing of the languages encountered, but this is both inevitable and harmless. Children who have a smaller vocabulary in one language may draw on words from the other language as needed. Known as code-switching, this mixing eventually goes away as a child's vocabulary develops in both languages and he has more exposure to each one.
The benefits undoubtedly outweigh the disadvantages. One study funded in part by the National Institute of Health suggested that children who grow up learning to speak two languages are better at switching between tasks than those who learn to speak only one language.
In fact some studies indicate that babies as young as seven months can distinguish between, and begin to learn, two languages with vastly different grammatical structures.
While not everyone has the advantage of bringing their child up in a bilingual environment, it is never too early to introduce them to a new language. Indeed how many of us wished we’d all studied an instrument early on and stuck with it? In fact learning a second language is just like learning an instrument. The more you play the better you get.
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Raising a bilingual child: The top five myths - Baby Center
New Study Shows Brain Benefits Of Bilingualism - NPR
Bilingual benefits: Raising a child with two languages - Multilingual Parenting
Why Bilinguals Are Smarter - New York Times
Bilingual babies' vocabulary linked to early brain differentiation - Science Daily
Bilingual babies know their grammar by 7 months - Science Daily