By Alejandra Okie
Helping me be fluent in two languages is one of the greatest gifts that my mother ever gave me. After we moved to the U.S. from Mexico, she kept speaking to me only in Spanish.
Being bilingual allowed me to continue to have a connection with my family, ancestors and culture. It has given me access to job opportunities as a writer, translator and community educator. It allows me to travel and to be able to communicate with over 3 million people whose first language is Spanish (SIL).
Latino immigrants and language:
As immigrants settle in a new country, it’s common for them to become more proficient in the new language and less in their native language. However, this doesn’t mean that immigrants abandon their native language. Here are some interesting facts about Latino youth (16 to 25 year olds) in the U.S. and their use of English and Spanish (Pew Hispanic Center):
|Latino youth who can carry on a conversation in English:||Latino youth who can read and write in Spanish:||Latino youth who use “Spanglish” most of the time (a mix of Spanish and English when speaking with family and friends)|
|Born outside the U.S.||48%||90%||22%|
|Second generation (born in the U.S.)||98%||68%||26%|
|Third generation (born in the U.S.)||97%||26%||20%|
Benefits of being bilingual:
- Whether you come from an immigrant family or are learning another language, speaking more than one language can benefit you in many ways:
- It’s good for your brain: Research studies have found that using two languages on a regular basis can delay Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. Individuals who are bilingual and have Alzheimer’s can continue functioning with the disease for longer. Research has also found that the brain processes of people who are bilingual are different: their mental development is enhanced and it allows them to be better at multitasking and focusing on important information while ignoring less important information.
- Advantages in school: Being bilingual provides flexibility in thinking, improved problem-solving skills and better listening perception. Other learning benefits include early reading, ease in understanding and applying grammar and higher scores on the SATs. Knowing more than one language can also give students a head start in meeting language requirements in high school and college.
- Job opportunities: In this global age, being fluent in more than one language opens the doors to opportunities in many careers.
- Travel and culture: Knowing more than one language lets you communicate with people you would otherwise not have the chance to know. Bilingual children can understand and appreciate people from other cultures and countries.
Tips for raising bilingual children:
People have different definitions of being bilingual and different goals for teaching their children another language. These tips can help you whether you want your children to be able to listen, speak, read, write or reason in another language:
- Start early: Language acquisition comes easier during the early years. After puberty changes in the brain may make it more difficult to have a native-like pronunciation.
- Have a plan and be consistent: Families can teach their children a language in different ways depending on their situation. Whatever works for your family, make sure you are consistent. If you mix languages in the same conversation, young kids may have trouble separating vocabulary and grammar into the appropriate language.
- One parent may consistently speak one language to the child while the other speaks another language.
- Both parents may speak one language at home and a second language is used at school or in the community.
- Parents speak both languages to the child but may change the languages depending on the situation or subject.
- Be a good language model: Introduce rich vocabulary and have different types of conversations but don’t make it too complex. Be a good listener.
- Create learning opportunities: Seek out playmates and families to interact with who are bilingual. Provide books, music, games, videos and learning apps in both languages. Visit your local library and ask a librarian for help finding resources.
- Find language classes: Find out if language classes are offered at your child’s school or in the community. Support language programs or help create one if none are available in your community.
- Make it fun: Don’t make learning a language feel like homework. Incorporate it into your daily life as much as possible and create a positive learning experience.
- Provide encouragement: Praise your child and show how important it is to you that they are bilingual.
Photo: Simon Blackley