When parents with different native languages raise their children bilingually, it is a great opportunity for the children. Whether at school or later at work, multilingualism is more relevant today than ever. Nevertheless, bilingual education can also bring difficulties. Parents who plan to raise their children bilingually should therefore keep a few things in mind. Then their children will have the best starting conditions.
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Advantages Of Bilingual Education
- Children who grow up bilingual at a young age usually reach a native level in these languages. This is difficult to achieve in adulthood and only with much more effort. And even if one has learned a language to a high level, completely accent-free speech is hardly possible. In the first years of life, the brain is more malleable and it is precisely this time when the foundations for later life are laid.
- Through early confrontation with two languages, a good feeling for language can develop more quickly. This is helpful both in everyday communication and in the acquisition of other languages. The child is already used to dealing with two different language systems and transferring information from one language to the other.
- Nowadays, in the business world, it is often very important to know at least two languages. Especially in international companies and in the modern professions of the digital age, multilingualism and a good command of languages are very useful. In certain professions that specifically work with languages, bilingual people in particular are in high demand.
- A learned language is always linked to the culture of the corresponding country. A child who knows several languages is therefore also familiar with several cultures. The understanding of communication between different cultures is also a great advantage in the times of globalization. But also in the social environment and in relationships, the ability to put oneself in the other person’s shoes can be very helpful.
- Studies also showed that people who use several languages in everyday life develop dementia later on average than people who live monolingually. Using more than one language repeatedly trains the brain when the person has to suppress impulses to switch back and forth between languages.
Disadvantages Of Bilingual Education
- In bilingual education, there is a risk that children will not have a really good command of either language. This can cause them problems at school, especially initially.
- Since a large part of society in Germany grows up monolingual, a bilingual child stands out much more at school. Sometimes, therefore, a child’s bilingualism can lead to exclusion and thus weaken self-confidence.
- When a child has language problems, they usually need to be addressed in both languages. Whether physical problems or difficulties with pronunciation or grammar, these will most likely occur in both native languages.
- Difficulties can also occur when parents do not have a good command of the languages themselves or try to teach their child a foreign language learned later as a native language. Non-native speakers are generally discouraged from bilingual education.
However, if parents are well prepared and take bilingual education seriously, the occurrence of problems can be greatly reduced. Thus, the child can then learn to speak without hindrance.
What To Look For In Bilingual Education?
In order for a child to learn both languages as well as possible, parents should only speak to the child in their own native language. In doing so, they should consistently stick to this one language, even if they may also have a partial command of the other language. This can prevent the child from learning incorrect grammar or pronunciation from that parent. It also helps to ensure that the child is truly using both languages.
Nevertheless, it may happen that the child speaks mainly one language for a while and then the other language again. This is normal and no cause for concern. To support the parents, other family members and acquaintances who have the same mother tongue can of course be brought in. In this way, the child gets to know the language even better, in all its facets and in different contexts, and is also encouraged to use it more.
Although both parents should speak only their native language with the child, it is important that each understands the other’s language as well. If one parent has to keep translating everything for the partner, sooner or later a child will wonder why he or she should still learn both languages at all. This can also become a problem in everyday life if, for example, one parent is not a native speaker of German but uses the language in conversations with neighbors or teachers. Parents should therefore discuss the importance of the respective language for the child in advance.
Especially the second language, which is not spoken by other people at the respective place of residence, should be actively promoted. Apart from other family members and acquaintances, the child can also be supported in its development through reading aloud, music and audio books in the respective language, for example. Travel to the country where the language is spoken and regular contact with acquaintances in that country are also helpful.
In addition, attending a bilingual kindergarten and later a bilingual or international school can be useful. These now exist in many cities throughout Germany. There, both native languages can be further promoted and the child is not forced to communicate in only one language in everyday life.
A language always has a certain cultural identity. If a language is taught in connection with the culture of the respective country, it is easier to learn because words and phrases are associated with a specific context. This also makes it easier to distinguish between the two languages.
Bilingualism In Germany
Approximately 17.1 million people in Germany speak two or more languages, and the most widely spoken native languages here (after German) are Russian (about 3 million native speakers), Turkish (about 2 million native speakers), Polish, Kurdish, Italian, Greek, Arabic, Dutch, Serbian, Croatian, Spanish and English. However, multilingualism is still often considered the exception. It is also often seen as a flaw and associated with language or even integration problems.
But any additional language can be valuable, even if it is rarely spoken. Translators or interpreters for rare languages can charge higher prices, and in every country, no matter how small, there are companies that need people with good language skills to communicate in the global market. And even otherwise, the advantages of multilingualism outweigh the disadvantages, and with the active involvement of parents, problems can often be overcome very well.