Every so often I get asked if my 2.5 year old son is bilingual. Many of my friends at school ask me how I can teach a toddler two languages and how he can possibly even understand them. You see—I am bilingual. I speak English and Spanish fluently although I grew up speaking only Spanish at home. At school it was a different story. I attended a dual-immersion elementary school where we were taught in both English and Spanish. Growing up bilingual has helped me to become fluent in two languages and to appreciate and admire two different cultures.
My son is fluent in both languages. We speak English solely at home while our family members speak to him in Spanish. Yes, we often throw some Spanish words here and there, but our focus is reading, speaking, and writing in English.
When it comes to bilingualism in young children, numerous studies relate being bilingual with long-term benefits, such as:
- Easily learning new words
- Putting words into categories
- Good listening skills
- Improved creative thinking
- Better problem-solving skills
- Better multitasking
- Better ability at solving mental puzzles
- Alzheimer’s disease symptoms are delayed
Learning another language at a young age and putting it into practice during a lifetime often result in better cognitive abilities.
Below are a few tips for introducing a second language to your child:
- Read, read, read: I have found it extremely helpful to read to our son in both English and Spanish. The library has a vast variety of multi-language books, videos, dvds, and audios to enjoy as a family. Some of our favorite bilingual books include: My Family and I (Mi Familia y Yo), Ana Cultiva Manzanas (Apple Farmer Annie), and SkippyJon Jones. Other books are also translated in other languages in addition to Spanish, and many books include both English translations as well.
- Talk: As simple as saying “¡Hola!,” speaking to a young child in a different language will enhance communication skills and will help them retain the words being used. And in order to take advantage of all benefits from being bilingual, both languages must be used constantly.
- Online resources: One of my favorite online resources for everything bilingual is Spanglish Baby. This website is packed with relevant information, daily reads, a blog, and the new Spanglish Baby Playground for interactive networking for parents raising bilingual children.
In reality, it is possible for a young child to absorb two or more different languages at the same time. As a parent, my goal for my son is to instill both languages as he grows older.
Are you raising a bilingual child? Why or why not? Do you think being bilingual benefits children? Are you opposed to raising a bilingual child?
Nina’s note: It’s easy for me to relate to this topic since my son is also bilingual. Question to those of you who don’t speak a second language: do you still try to expose your kids to different languages even if English is the only spoken language at home? How important is speaking a second language in your family?
Ana is a stay-at-home mom of a toddler boy. She’s also working on her Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education. Her blog, Mommyhood: From the Heart discusses parenting, motherhood and education.