Updated: May 17, 2020
By: Ben Simonds
Today, the U.S. is more diverse than ever. You can find people of just about all nationalities and cultures in America. Naturally, with that comes an all-time high in the number of American residents who speak more than one language (typically their native language along with English). As the cultures and languages in our country continue to become increasingly diverse, more and more children are being raised to speak not just one, but two languages (or maybe even more)! As this trend has become clear, much research has been conducted about both the benefits and potential negatives of teaching a young child two languages. It has been found that while there are a few possible cons of raising a multilingual child, it is generally an overwhelmingly positive and beneficial choice.
For starters, children who were raised to speak two or more languages tend to develop better reading and writing skills than those who learn just one language (Mace-Matluck & Hoover, 1980).A major reason for this is that children who learn multiple languages from early on pick up on grammatical rules earlier and have more practice learning vocabulary and acquiring reading skills, especially since there is more of an enhanced focus on language learning and development (Genessee, 1979). Multilingual children also tend to have better overall analytical and social skills than their monolingual peers (Oades-Sese et al., 2011). However, one must consider that learning multiple languages can be a bit more of a workload than just one for a developing child. Some parents estimate that infants in bilingual households begin speaking a few months later than what is typical for developing children, although there is little scientific evidence to back this. In the long run, though, multilingualism from a young age seems to really contribute to a developing child’s language comprehension, reading and writing abilities, and other skills.
Raising a multilingual child will also be good for them in school and in their eventual careers. Most primary schools mandate learning a foreign language, so any multilingual child will have a head start here. Also, there is much evidence to show that knowing two languages makes learning a third much easier, as they already have experience learning different languages (University of Haifa, 2011). Additionally, knowing multiple languages opens up a number of career options and makes one a viable job candidate in adulthood. Helen Riley-Collins, president of Aunt Ann's In-House Staffing in San Francisco, said more than half her clients request nannies who speak another language. "Families who are involved in international business are thinking ahead," she said of her clients, many of whom work in high tech, investment banking or finance. "They want to give their children a head start in business in 20 years," (Multilingual Children’s Association, 2004). Overall, multilingual children have a leg-up on their peers at a young age, and will continue to have that advantage through adulthood.
Finally, multilingualism has cultural and emotional advantages. Children who are multilingual are more relaxed and confident in different and new environments, and are also more willing to be open and accepting of other cultures. They will understand that cultural differences exist, that one culture isn’t better than another, and will be confident in functioning in different cultures (Multilingual Children’s Association, 2004). Multilingualism is also a great way to build an emotional connection between you, your child, and your heritage. If you are living in America but originate from a different country, teaching your child your native language is a great way to keep them connected to their heritage and to build an emotional bond with your child.
While there are an overwhelming number of benefits to raising your child to be multilingual, there are a few cons and worries. The biggest one parents often cite is the amount of effort it requires. Children naturally are able to learn one language, but teaching a child two languages is a long-term investment that takes time and effort. It will require extra encouragement, strong consistency, and enough exposures to all languages. There is also a worry about the child mixing the two languages in speaking early on, but with effort and consistency, this problem will fizzle out over time.
Overall, it seems that raising your child to be multilingual is an investment that will take time and effort, but will be great for them in the long run. Multilingual children are better prepared for the future, have stronger reading and writing skills, and are more adept socially and culturally. Raising a multilingual child is certainly a worthy investment.
Author: Ben Simonds is a Junior at Bowdoin College pursuing an undergraduate degree in psychology with a concentration in child development and a minor in religious studies. He is passionate about working with children and advocating for mental and emotional health. As a blog writer he is committed to writing about
the most important issues and doing what he can to give parents the tools to raise healthy and happy children.
Genesee, F. (1979). Acquisition of reading skills in immersion programs. Foreign Language
Annals 12, 71–77.
Mace-Matluck, B.J. & Hoover, W.A. (1980). Bilingual reading: Effects of learner
characteristics and type of instruction on reading achievement. Paper presented at the
25th annual convention of the International Reading Association, St. Louis, MO.
Multilingual Children’s Association, (2004). The Pros and Cons of Raising a Multilingual Child.
Oades-Sese, G. V., Esquivel, G. B., Kaliski, P. K., & Maniatis, L. (2011). A longitudinal study of
the social and academic competence of economically disadvantaged bilingual
preschool children. Developmental psychology, 47(3), 747.
University of Haifa (2011). "Bilinguals find it easier to learn a third language." ScienceDaily.