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Bilingual Children. Who are they?

A separate section of my blog is about bilingual children.

            I left Russia when my children were 9, 2.5 and 1 years old. The two youngest were born in Andorra. From that moment on, my children lived in diversity of languages around. Russian was used at home, and in schools, kindergartens Spanish, and Catalan, and French, and English were used. It all depends on the kindergarten or school, on the age of admission there. Moreover, my eldest daughter has been already learning English as a foreign language from the age of 2-3, while we were living in Russia, but still it was not enough. But the younger ones have already begun to learn languages as the second, third ... I decided to understand the nuances of this issue.

            Who are the 'bilingual children'? How are they different from monolingual children?

According to statistics, every year the number of bilingual children in the world is increasing. It is assumed that in the next decade the majority of the world's population will be at least bilingual. The modern education system unfortunately, is not designed for mass education of bilingual children. After all, in addition, when choosing teaching methods, it is important to distinguish natural bilinguals (who have mastered a second language before the age of 14-15) from artificial and additive (studying a second language analytically as a foreign language, or not speaking in full), since in these cases different approaches to teaching are required. What's the difference?



Option 1: 'Learning a second language in a family.'

In the case of natural bilinguals, the decision on whether children will speak several languages is made directly by the parents. It is up to them to determine which languages are important to their family and why. Often this happens in families where parents speak different languages with the child, so most natural bilinguals learn a second language at the same time as the first or at a fairly early age. Naturally, in this case training begins within the family long before school. There are several undue fears parents who decide to raise a bilingual face.

Fear One: 'Only gifted children can learn a new language, and our son/daughter although a wonderful child, does not stand out in particular.' Studies show that almost any baby in the absence of logopedic problems is able to learn a second language. Some experts even call the threshold of 7 languages. At the same time, the earlier the training begins and in a more natural environment, the easier it will be to do this.

The second concern: 'Monolingual parents will not be able to raise a bilingual child.' Numerous stories of families living abroad for a long time are the best refutation of this. One example is my family. We speak Russian at home, and all the other languages the children learned as they say in natural conditions with language immersion. To tell the truth, for better efficiency in such a situation the language will have to be learned by both children and parents. But do not doubt that you as a role model will have a huge impact on the future bilingual or it on you. Remember that a child should hear a second language for at least 5 hours a week, long breaks are detrimental to progressive language learning. I assure you that my children have long been freely and better at speaking other languages than I am.

Fear Three: 'Bilingual children get confused about languages without mastering any of them at the proper level.' Mixing during study is a normal practice that can be present in the speech of a child up to 10-11 years old. Children can mix different languages in one sentence, because even speakers of the same language sometimes find it difficult to remember the necessary word. Therefore, when a child uses foreign words in speech, it does not mean that it does not understand what language it speaks. It is reliably known that by the age of three the child realizes that he speaks different languages, already at this age it absolutely clearly understands which of the parents to address in which language, if the family has multilingual parents. My kids can still speak to me in sentences that include multiple languages. Even a three-word sentence can contain three languages. But at school where they know for a fact that they will not be understood, they speak pure English or Spanish or French.

This I would call word formation: the use of the grammar of one language in another or word formation. Such a linguistic game requires knowledge in both languages and is more a sign of skill than confusion. It must be remembered that children learn the language meaningfully, they do not have the skill to translate from language to language. This skill should be learned additionally. Unfortunately, the modern system of teaching languages is based on translation from one language to another. It doesn't work that way with bilingual children. They think, not translate. But there should be a separate post about this.

There are also real difficulties that parents raising a bilingual should be aware of.

First, the speech lag, which usually disappears by the age of 5. 5-10% of children pass through it, regardless of the number of languages they speak. Moreover, boys face difficulties 4 times more often. The view that stopping to learn a second language helps bilingual children cope with speech lag is not supported by research. Linguistic skills are usually transferred from one language to another. And communication in the family helps speech development. Much attention in speech therapy should be paid to the phonetic component of the tongue, what facial muscles are involved, and also, at what age the child began to learn a second language. All my children went through classes with speech therapists, and we first of all, did exercises to develop those facial muscles that were not developed for this particular language.

Secondly, a smaller amount of vocabulary than the norm at the beginning of colloquial speech. In most cases, parents or specialists count the words that their child knows in one language, but if we take into account the vocabulary of two or more languages, then already in school the vocabulary of bilingual children exceeds the lexicon of monolinguals. If the child has objective difficulties (for example, he has difficulties not only with expressing his thoughts, but also with understanding what others say), it is necessary to consult a specialist, saying in advance that he is bilingual. This should not be feared or ignored by parents, but the child is needed to be double-checked for the presence of various obstacles in his development.

It is believed that one of the most effective methods of teaching a child a language is 'one parent – one language'. Of course, it requires certain efforts from the family, since having begun to speak with the baby a new language, the adult should use only it in the presence of the child. Gradually, the future bilingual gets ideas about 'mom' and 'dad' languages. At the same time, some people (friends, relatives, nannies) can talk to the child in each of them. At about 11 months, babies begin to pronounce the first words and although their speech is not yet complete, the baby's brain can already process any language or languages present in its environment. Learning at the same time occurs naturally, with the help of a normal conversation. Parents need to talk about everything out loud, to talk even if the child is still too young to answer or is hard to reach. As it has been proven, it is aware of much more than it can express. Try to use not only the memory, but also the child's sense organs. For example, ask it to help get a big red apple, touch it, taste it, then take a sour green, try it, bake a pie with these apples.  After all, language learning happens daily in everyday activities.

If in the process of explanation you will use gestures and point to objects, you will greatly simplify the task of mastering new words for the child. This is especially important in communication with young children when the vocabulary is not yet large. But over time make sure that the child pronounces the words on his own!

Do not miss the opportunity to praise the child for new knowledge. For this, all methods are good. For example, when reading a book, ask your child to say aloud a word familiar to him in meaning and spelling. Praise it with words, pat it on the head, on the shoulder. Use any encouragement, praise, it is always very pleasant.

To make the child learn to write faster in the future, you can introduce him in advance to the concept of expressing thoughts and ideas through symbols, using simple drawing. After reading the book, ask the kid to draw a character it likes and tell a little about him. Then make an appropriate signature in 'your' language: 'brave girl' or 'good wizard'. My children in the first few weeks of adaptation at the English school every Monday drew a drawing on the theme of how I spent the weekend. The teacher discussed with the child his drawing, asking leading questions, thereby not only increasing its vocabulary, but also encouraging the child to speak more, to think in this language.

Of course, raising a child bilingual is not easy. But all these difficulties cannot be compared with the power of doubt of the monolinguals around. This is almost the main demotivating factor that makes parents abandon their laudable undertaking halfway through. It is important to remember that bilingualism is not only natural but also stimulates the development of the child's brain. It gives a huge increase in cognitive abilities. In short, based on the current situation bilingualism is one of the best investments in the future of a child.