The Benefits of Raising a Multilingual Child

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.

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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!

5 thoughts on “The Benefits of Raising a Multilingual Child

  1. Hi, we have a 9 month old daughter. I’m German, my husband is Algerian and we are living in France. Our daughter will hopefully be more or less trilingual. I approve speaking différent languages with your kid because it helps to develop the brain and also makes it easier to travel and work later. My family speaks only German. I speak also French, English and a bit Spanish and it helps in Europe to talk with people from other countries. I would like to give my daughter the best opportunities as early as possible.

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  2. We are a British family, living in France. All the French my children have learnt has been at school. There is something missing in their cultural understanding, but not their ability to talk, be understood and understand. My youngest had a revelation when he realised that ‘the English’ could speak French as well. As you say, if they understand it’s possible, it really is!

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  3. I’m English and my wife is Mauritian (she speaks English and French). We thought we’d speak with our 2 daughters in English when we were all together or when they were alone with me, and French when with their Mum.
    Alright in theory but, when they were climbing the curtains or refusing to eat their dinner, it always ended up as English. Although they understand French quite well, it never seemed to get any further than that. (if we didn’t want them to understand our secrets, we’d pass our messages in Creole, my wife’s 3rd language. It only took a couple of years or so before we realised that the’d cracked it!)

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  4. Any article to do with bilingualism and I’m a curious reader. I am Australian born but have raised my son (now 13) in French, my non-native language. It has been a journey that has taken the whole family (I also have 2 daughters with whom I didn’t think to do what I have done with my son) to live in France, I have changed careers (I used to teach, I now write) and has given us an outlook on living that we otherwise may not have had. The advantages of bilingualism have been for all of us, not just my son. It’s great…

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  5. Thanks for helping me understand more about some of the benefits a child can have by being multilingual. I’m glad that you mentioned that it can be easier for a child to connect with extended family and have meaningful relationships with them. It sounds like it will make them feel included in the family as well, especially if they are able to talk and converse with them. Not only that, but it seems like a great way to be exposed to multiple cultures, and might even help in the future when exposed to new ones.

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