Advantages of being bilingual
Being bilingual… twenty years ago very few people could say “I am bilingual”, while nowadays it is a fairly widespread feature thanks to globalization and the possibility of traveling and living in different countries.
But even if it is widespread, there is still a lot of confusion on the subject, and some think that exposing children to multiple languages from birth can create problems in their development and in their language. This is simply false.
In this article, we will see together what are the advantages of being bilingual to disprove once and for all this false assumption that bilingualism can have contraindications.
What does Bilingualism mean?
Simply, bilingualism is the ability to use two languages.
One of the definitions of bilingualism tells us that in fact, to be considered bilingual, it is not necessary to speak the two languages with the same command, and it is not necessary to have a complete (native) knowledge of the second language.
In fact, when we talk about bilingualism in childhood, we mean children who are exposed to two (or more) languages: for example, children whose parents speak different languages, or children who are exposed to one language at home and another. language in the community (at school).
Bilingual children can be divided into two groups, based on the order of exposure of the languages.
We speak of simultaneous bilingualism when a child is exposed to two languages from the same time in their life (usually from birth). This is the case of children whose parents speak two different languages, each parent will speak their language to the child, who will be exposed to both from birth.
Instead, we speak of consecutive bilingualism when the child is first exposed to one language, and then to another. This is the case of children who are exposed to one language at home, and who are subsequently exposed to another language as soon as they start school (for example, children from an Italian family living in London).
Today, around 70% of the world’s population is considered to be bilingual. Contrary to what was thought in the early 1900s, growing up bilingual (or multilingual) does not cause cognitive or language problems. Nowadays, numerous studies state that growing bilingual can have advantages.
What are the advantages of growing bilingual?
First of all, the ability to speak two different languages and to understand different cultures supports the social ability and the ability to create friendly relationships between children.
These children, once adults, will have a better chance of finding a job, especially nowadays, when it is possible to work remotely for a different country even while staying at home.
But not only. Some studies claim that bilingual children are more advantaged than their monolingual peers in dealing with new and unexpected situations that come out of their routine. This is because being exposed to two languages and having to change from one language to another quickly improves attention and memory.
Furthermore, bilingual children are able to understand from a very young age that others can see things from a different point of view from their own (the famous “theory of mind”). This is because they are used from the beginning to adapt the language in which they speak to the person they are talking to – realizing that other people may not speak both languages that they speak.
Does bilingualism cause language problems?
The definitive answer is NO!
Bilingual children follow the same language development stages as their monolingual peers.
So why is it so common to hear that bilingualism causes delay?
The reason is that the bilingual child sometimes seems to speak late because his or her language ability is divided into two languages.
Let’s take the vocabulary as an example:
- If a child who speaks only English is able to say 50 words, a child of the same age who speaks English and Dutch could say 27 words in English and 27 in Dutch.
- If we compare the number of words that the two children use in English, it might seem that the bilingual child knows less, 50> 27.
- But if we take into account the bilingual child’s entire vocabulary, we can see that he actually knows more, 54> 50.
This is not to say that bilingual children cannot have language delay or disorder, only that the likelihood of a language disorder is the same in bilingual and monolingual children.
So how do I know if my child has a language delay?
Signs that may indicate language impairment are:
- If the child has not yet said their first words (in either language) at 18 months
- If the child does not have at least 50 words (total) at 2 years old
- If the child does not begin to combine two words to form sentences at 2.5 years old
- If the child does not speak in sentences around the age of 3.
In the event that these red flags are encountered, it is advisable to contact a speech therapist who will do a language assessment, and will decide if it is appropriate to intervene on language.
Contact me here for a monolingual or bilingual language assessment.