My wife is Moroccan, I’m American and we live in Paris. The question of language always surrounds us. Should we speak in Arabic? English? French? When we were expecting our son, we knew this would be a question for him as well. As we sifted through Montessori-method books and mommy blogs, noting things like age-appropriate activities and stories, this was the question we kept coming back to: How would we speak to our baby boy?
In the end, we decided to speak our mother tongues — my wife speaks Tangier-dialect Arabic and I speak my West Coast American English. We were convinced that the benefits of having a baby listening to two languages at such an early age were too extraordinary to pass up and we didn’t want to miss out.
Here are just a few benefits you can expect from raising a multilingual child:
An Intelligent Child: Though a multilingual child might take a little longer to speak, she will have little trouble understanding what is being said and, once she is ready to enter school, she will understand there are multiple words for the same action or item (verb or noun) and, unlike her peers, language will not be a passive part of her environment, but a tool that she will have control over. In turn, even at a pre-verbal age, she will be figuring out complex ideas and puzzling through her physical surroundings, which expands her capacities for things like abstract thought.
Stronger Relationships: As parents, there is an emotional bond you can have with your child in your mother tongue that just isn’t quite there in a second language. In your mother tongue, you can sing the lullabies your mother sang to you and read the stories that you grew up reading. In this way, there is also a cultural legacy that you pass on to your child. And if you have family that is monolingual, this will make it easier for your child to connect with your extended family and have meaningful relationships with her grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Financially Stable: Later in life, there will be more employment opportunities for your multilingual child, particularly as the world becomes a more globalized society and positions for multilinguals remain in high demand.
Today, our son turns eleven months old. He’s now beginning to understand language. He knows when I’m telling him “goodbye” or ask him to find my “watch,” and he understands his mom when she asks him to find his “krisha” (tummy) or his “hatouta” (peepee). Frankly, it’s amazing.
Because a child’s brain is geared at this age to absorb language, we’ve even enrolled him in French-speaking daycare. Our family motto: Trilingual is the new Bilingual. By the time he is four, he should be speaking Arabic, English and French!
Kids are sponges. Let them soak up as much as they can! The earlier you get them started, the better!