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Raising a Bilingual Child

08 December 2015

What is the difference between your child learning two languages and raising a bilingual child?

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  • Bilingual student 20151208 (2)

Proficiency in English is rapidly becoming an increasingly important skill for study and workplace, and many parents are investing a lot of effort in their children’s English learning to give their child the best possible start in life. However, there is a big difference between a child learning a foreign language and a child studying in a bilingual environment that go beyond the language acquisition and directly affects a child’s development and achievement.

When children learn a foreign language, they acquire a very valuable new skill. In addition, learning a foreign language involves memorising rules and vocabulary, which improves overall memory, and accordingly multiple language speakers are better at remembering lists or sequences. Studies show that bilinguals are better at retaining shopping lists, names, and directions. However, recent research studies conducted by a number of leading universities in Canada, United States and Australia demonstrate that studying in a truly bilingual environment really transforms a child’s development path and unlocks their academic potential in a number of very effective ways beyond the known benefits of learning an additional language.

In a truly bilingual environment children tend to ‘translanguage’ all the time – they switch between two systems of speech, writing, and structure. When using two or more languages at the same time (instead of either Vietnamese or English), children mediate complex social and cognitive activities through employment of multiple semiotic resources. This significantly improves the functionality of their brain by challenging it to recognise and negotiate meaning, and to communicate in different language systems. This skill also improves children’s ability to negotiate meaning in other problem-solving tasks as well. Unsurprisingly, bilingual and multilingual students tend to score better on standardised tests than their monolingual peers, particularly in the categories of maths, reading, and vocabulary. Moreover, “juggling” two languages makes children good multi-taskers, because they can easily switch between different structures.

A recent study from the University of Pompeu Fabra also revealed that multilingual children are better at observing their surroundings. They are more adept at focusing on relevant information and editing out the irrelevant. According to The University of Chicago’s study, bilingual children are also better at spotting misleading information, and tend to make more rational decisions. This is because bilingual children tend to think their options and choices over in the second language as well, to see whether their initial conclusions still stand. In addition, translanguaging makes children more aware of language, and the ways they can be structured and manipulated. These skills help to make children more effective communicators. Overall, therefore, studying in a bilingual environment really helps children to develop holistically, on a number of levels, and enhances their ability to succeed academically in other areas, and also later in their university studies and work environment.