What It Means To Be Bilingual

A recent article in the Boston Globe, talked about how hard and exhausting it is to pass down a language (other than English) to your children.  I for one am language-challenged, and am very envious of my friends who have mastered another language so easily from conversing with their parents.  All studies show that learning a second language is easiest the earlier one starts, so it is best to begin one’s relationship with a new baby, speaking the language of one’s culture.  Children will integrate this language easily and eventually be able to separate it from English that she hears when she watches television, interacts with her babysitter or nanny, goes to pre-school and plays in the neighborhood.  Your child may speak a little later (a matter of months) than children who only hear one language, as her brain is working out the differences in sounds and sentences.  But when she does speak, she will have it pretty much worked out about when to speak English and when to speak Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Hebrew, French, etc….  An occasional mix up of words from one language to another is common, but that is temporary.

The article in the Globe only spoke about the difficulties that parents face when they speak Spanish, for example, and their children respond in English.  My advise to them:  do it anyway and do it consistently.  In ScienceDaily, researchers report that “people who can speak two languages are more adept at learning a new foreign language … and their bilingual advantage persists even when the new language they study is completely different from the languages they already know.”

“It’s often assumed that individuals who’ve learned multiple languages simply have a natural aptitude for learning languages,” said Viorica Marian, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders atNorthwesternUniversity. “(O)ur research shows that the experience of becoming bilingual itself makes learning a new language easier.”

In addition, researchers believe the bilingual advantage is likely to generalize beyond word learning to other kinds of language learning, including learning new words in one’s own language and a very basic ability to maintain verbal information. New research even indicates that the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in bilinguals is, on average, delayed by four years compared to monolinguals.

So, don’t force children to respond to you in Korean, and don’t get discouraged. The important thing is that she is exposed to the language of family and culture through your CONSISTENT use, and will always be able to draw on that knowledge.

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