We believe that BVIS is the leading bilingual school in Vietnam, and we continuously develop our knowledge and understanding of bilingualism, and consider how it can be used to create a truly bilingual environment for our students. Our curriculum is taught in both languages, with a particular focus on English towards the end of the programme to prepare our students well for their university studies abroad. Our Bilingualism Expert, Mr Preston Rybacki, shares his thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of bilingual education:
1.What is the difference between learning two languages and studying or growing up in a truly bilingual setting?
Growing up in a truly bilingual setting provides a variety of benefits beyond just acquiring two languages. There is a wealth of research that suggests there are numerous cognitive, social and mental health benefits of being bilingual, some of which are: improved memory and problem solving skills, increased alertness, greater academic achievement, better cultural awareness and more effective communication skills. The research also suggests that the effects of these benefits increase the more proficient one becomes in both languages. Most experts believe that starting younger gives you a better chance of becoming bilingually proficient and in turn, a better chance of reaping these additional benefits
2. What is the importance of language acquisition for the overall development of Early Years children?
Research paints a positive picture in relation to young children’s language acquisition as a foundation for learning and development. The UK EYFS Curriculum identifies 3 fundamental Prime Areas of Learning which work together, and move through the Early Stages to support development in all other areas. These three areas are: Communication and Language, Personal, Social and Emotional Development, and finally, Physical Development. These three areas develop quickly in response to positive relationships and experiences and support all other aspects of learning. Without the development of language, it is more difficult for children to be able to access the world around them and verbalise their thoughts and feelings, therefore gaining knowledge and understanding and developing questioning skills.
3. What are the benefits and potential drawbacks of bilingual environments for children?
As I mentioned earlier, the benefits are numerous and varied. As far as negative aspects go, most of the perceived drawbacks are misconceptions that are not backed by research. However, there are some potential issues that are worth noting.
One common concern for parents is that there will be a delay in their child’s speaking development. Although there is no research to validate this, many parents I’ve spoken to think there is a slight delay of 3-6 months but that there are no long-term shortcomings. Children eventually catch up with their monolingual peers.
Another concern some parents share is that they’re worried their child will mix up the two languages. There is potential for this to happen but it will often correct itself by the age of 5 or 6. Monolingual children mix up and misuse words in their own language in the early stages as well, it’s a natural part of language acquisition.
The only true potential drawback I can see is that raising a bilingual child takes more commitment and hard work for the parents. Raising a bilingual child is a long-term project that takes a lot of strategising, effort and patience. However, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
4. How can parents support their children to minimise these potential drawbacks?
The first thing would be to agree, as a family, that you want to raise a multilingual child. As mentioned before, it’s a long and hard process so everyone in the family has to be fully committed.
Secondly, be informed and be patient. Do some research and talk to other multilingual families so that you know what to expect and when to expect it. Creating a network with other bilingual families will create a support system as well. Then remember that language acquisition is a life-long process. You have to be patient and you have to celebrate even the smallest steps forward. Set your goals but be flexible in how you get there.
Lastly, parents need to come up with a strategy or system for language use at home. This will depend on how confident each parent is with each language, what the main language at home is, and how much exposure the child will get of each language outside of the home. Some parents take on a “one parent/one language” approach while others are more fluid with language use. The most important thing is that you do some research, agree on a strategy and be consistent with it.
5. What can parents do to maximise the benefits of bilingualism for their children?
As I mentioned before, most experts suggest that there is a positive correlation between increased proficiency in both languages and the potential impact of the benefits. Also, the earlier you start learning additional languages, the easier it is for one to become bilingually proficient.
Furthermore, parents need to share a positive attitude towards bilingualism and value each language, and culture, equally. A child’s attitude towards the language and cultures they are learning greatly impacts their potential for success and their parents have the greatest impact on their attitude.
6. If you could change one thing about how parents approach raising bilingual children, what would it be?
I think it would be the laissez-faire approach to raising a bilingual child. Some parents think that just exposing the child to both languages or sending them to a bilingual school will be enough. This line of thought is especially easy to fall into if you are in a community where bilingualism is the norm.
However, raising a bilingual child can be difficult and it will take more effort than one might think. Educating oneself on strategies for raising bilingual children will help you make well-informed decisions for your family and hopefully avoid any potential difficulties. Knowing what the key milestones in bilingual children’s language development are will help parents track the progress and identify any potential difficulties. Ultimately, it will increase their child’s potential to be a proficient bilingual learner as well.