Bilingualism – A Gift to Your Child

Figure 1: Bilingual children whispering in their native tongue

Fluent in more than one language and wondering which language to talk to your child? Are you worried that more than one language may be confusing in your child’s development? Do you question how to introduce your child to another language?

You are not alone; many bilingual families face the same dilemma, an extraordinary predicament, as research has shown that children who learn more than one language have a significant advantage in life. Here’s why it is beneficial to your child and how to expose your child to multiple languages the Montessori way.

7 Benefits of Bilingualism and the Effect on the Brain

Figure 2: Bilingual children have more remarkable neural plasticity
  1. 1. Better information processing

Bilingual children have a higher density of grey matter in the brain. Grey matter processes the information generated in the sensory organs. Children learn predominantly through their senses; thus, bilingual children have a more remarkable ability to process and sort through this sensory input.

  1. 2. Better executive functioning

The saying goes,’ the more neurons that fire together, wire together.’ A bilingual child has an increased number of neurons firing together, which leads to a healthier, more efficient brain as more parts are being used and activated. Like a muscle, the brain, if exercised, strengthens its functional ability. Executive functioning includes adaptable thinking, planning, self-monitoring, self-control, working memory, time management, and organization.

  1. 3. Better problem solving

Speaking more than one language strengthens the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of the brain, responsible for problem-solving. The increased neural plasticity of a bilingual child’s brain allows the child to understand a problem from many more angles.

  1. 4. Better concentration

Bilingual children learn to shut down certain aspects of the brain to access each specific language, which gives the child the ability to shut down certain stimuli to concentrate more fully. Therefore, the child can more easily focus on tasks and filter information efficiently.

  1. 5. Increased creativity

Bilingual children have a greater capacity for creative thinking due to the increased number of neural pathway connections activated in the brain, which allows the child to see a situation from many different angles, thus giving the child greater awareness, understanding and creative insight.

  1. 6. Better communication

Bilingual children are much more aware of the nuances and intonation of language and more easily pick up on the subtle cues of communication. They have had to hone their listening skills to decipher between the different languages and are thus better listeners. Although it may take a bilingual child longer to speak initially, he will have more in-depth communication later.

  1. 7. Better social awareness

Bilingual children have been seen to have more effective social skills and are more open-minded and accepting of cultural differences. Communicating with different cultural groups builds confidence and develops cultural awareness, enhancing empathy and compassion for others.

Figure 3: Research shows that bilingual children are smarter

“…it appears that when families have another language that can be spoken in the home where children are being raised, it could be an opportunity to both enrich their language skills and also provide a cognitive boost for their highest brain networks of executive functions.” – Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed.

7 Montessori Ways to Maximize the Benefits of Bilingualism

Children are like sponges, they love to soak up as much as they can. They can absorb new languages naturally without the overwhelm and anxiety many adults feel. 

Maria Montessori coined the term ‘Absorbent Mind’ to describe how a child absorbs, like a sponge, the environment into which he is born. She wrote in-depth on how a child absorbs his environment into the very fabric of his soul, including the languages that surround him.

“What is clear is that when the child is born, he has neither hearing nor speech. So what exists? Nothing, yet all is ready to appear.” — Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori also observed that children go through sensitive periods, developmental windows, when a child is most receptive and capable of learning a particular skill, one of which is language. Between birth and the age of six is the most beneficial time to expose a child to language. But how?

Figure 4: Bilingualism – a father communicating face to face with his baby providing him with the opportunity to watch his facial expressions and mouth
  1. 1. Choose a language and speak it consistently.

Decide on which languages you would like your child to learn and then designate a carer to speak that particular language to your child consistently. For example, if the mother speaks Spanish, the mother must speak only Spanish to the child where possible. It is best if the carer communicates in their native tongue.

  1. 2. Expose your child to different languages through books.

Incorporate books in various languages on your child’s bookshelf, preferably in the languages your child is learning. Provide your child with books that reflect the culture of these languages. For example, age-appropriate books written in the Spanish language and on topics such as flamenco dance or the Pyrenees.

  1. 3. Label your child’s environment in both languages.

Label items around your home in both the languages your child is learning. For example, you can label the mirror ‘mirror’ and ‘Espejo’ in the bathroom. Perhaps choose a different color writing for each language.

  1. 4. Speak each language properly.

Communicate with your child as though they understand everything you are saying. You do not need to use ‘baby language’ to help your child understand. Your child needs to hear the language appropriately spoken to absorb it effectively.

  1. 5. Make eye contact.

Bend down to your child’s level and make eye contact when communicating, which helps your child read your facial expressions and formations of your mouth so that he can fully understand and imitate the sounds.

  1. 6. Play music or listening stories in both languages.

Expose your child to the linguistic melodies of each language. Every language has a unique beauty and richness, which imbues its culture and history. Make sure your child hears the languages he speaks shared through many auditory mediums.

  1. 7. Encourage your child to write in both languages.

Thank you letters are a fantastic way to encourage your child to use both languages in their written form. For example, if your child’s grandmother speaks Portuguese with your child, then encourage your child to write a thank you note to her in this language.

spanish immersion

You may be left wondering which languages are best for your child to learn? Although we cannot endorse one language over and above any other, we suggest that some of the more practical language choices may be English, French, Mandarin, Spanish, German, and sign language. Remember, though, it is not the choice of language that matters most but rather how it is shared. Share naturally with love, confidence, and cultural authenticity!

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