Raising multilingual and bilingual children: good for children, families and communities
Raising multilingual or bilingual children is good for your child or children. It’s also good for your family, your local community and the wider community.
Children: benefits of multilingualism and bilingualism
For your child, speaking and using more than one language regularly has been linked to:
- improved literacy and other language skills
- better results in other academic subjects
- more diverse and interesting work and travel opportunities later in life.
Also, if your child grows up speaking more than one language, they might have a better sense of self-worth, identity and belonging. This comes from:
- feeling good about their heritage
- feeling confident about communicating and connecting with extended family members and people who speak their heritage language
- learning and hearing stories directly from family members
- being able to enjoy music, movies, literature and so on in more than one language.
Families: benefits of multilingualism and bilingualism
For your family, being multilingual and developing your heritage language in your child:
- improves communication among your family members
- enhances emotional bonds
- makes it easier for you and your child to be part of your culture
- boosts your family’s sense of cultural identity and belonging.
Communities: benefits of multilingualism and bilingualism
For your wider community, when children speak more than one language, it might mean that more children and adults in your community:
- appreciate and understand diverse languages and cultures
- have increased empathy for diverse ways of understanding the world.
Things to think about when you’re raising multilingual and bilingual children
Raising multilingual or bilingual children is a long-term commitment. To make multilingualism work for your child and family, there are things you can do each day. You might also need to think about these things over the long term.
These things include:
- sticking with your heritage language, even when there’s pressure to choose English
- reminding yourself that using your heritage language helps to strengthen family bonds
- using your heritage language to play games, read books, cook food and do other fun things that make it positive for your child
- helping your child understand the benefits of multilingualism and bilingualism
- making sure your child gets plenty of chances to hear and use their heritage language
- talking to your child’s teachers and getting their support for your efforts
- getting support for yourself – for example, by talking to friends and family who are raising multilingual or bilingual children and finding resources in your community, like bilingual playgroups.
Multilingualism and bilingualism: frequently asked questions
Can children understand the differences among languages?
Multilingual and bilingual children understand the differences among languages from an early age, especially if families use the one person-one language model. They can learn 2 or more languages at the same time without getting confused. For example, they realise very quickly that they need to speak German to their grandmother and English to the teacher.
How does multilingualism and bilingualism affect the way children learn English?
Speaking a heritage language or other languages to children in the home doesn’t negatively affect how children learn English. In fact, children who grow up in a family with limited English do better at learning English in school if they keep using their heritage languages at home. That’s because a solid base in their first language makes it easier for them to learn a second one.
How does multilingualism and bilingualism affect literacy skills?
Multilingual and bilingual children who are exposed to more than one written language – for example, Spanish and English – or even different writing systems – for example, Chinese and English – can read and write English at high levels. Learning more than one language helps children understand language structures, and they’re more likely to become literate in all the languages they use.
How does multilingualism and bilingualism affect academic learning?
Being multilingual or bilingual often helps children learn at school because it helps them with problem-solving, multitasking, creativity and flexible thinking.
How does multilingualism and bilingualism affect speech development?
All children develop speech at different rates. Learning more than one language at the same time won’t affect how early or quickly your child learns to speak. Children exposed to more than one language from birth often become highly skilled speakers of their various languages.
Do parents need to worry if multilingual or bilingual children mix their languages?
Multilingual or bilingual children sometimes ‘mix’ their languages within the one sentence or during conversations. This is a natural part of multilingual and bilingual development. Children learn early to keep their languages separate.