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Author Topic: QotW - 14.05.11 - Is it a good thing to raise your baby to be bilingual?  (Read 5305 times)

Offline thedoc

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We find out if raising your baby to be bilingual is a good or bad thing for brain development.
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If you want to discuss this show, or ask a question, this is the place to do it.
« Last Edit: 16/06/2014 11:07:14 by hannahcritchlow »


 

Offline CliffordK

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I would think it might be confusing for a very young infant to be changing the language too much.  However, young children seem to have the capacity to pick up multiple languages far better than older individuals.

It might be good to have consistency.  For example having Mommy-Speak & Daddy-Speak.
 

Offline David Cooper

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I've heard suggestions before that it can delay development in other ways a little, but with an overall gain in time. There was one case where a baby/child was brought up with four people speaking different languages to it and it learned all four without any trouble. There must come a point where the number of languages used becomes harmful, but I don't think anyone who has the option to bring up a child with two native languages should do anything other than just that.
 

Offline alancalverd

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There's something to be said for learning a second language formally and later in life. It seems that formal learning through grammar and written words rather than immersive spoken words uses a different area of the brain from "primary" speech.

My aunt studied French in her forties and became fluent after a few years' residence in France. She later suffered a stroke that rendered her incommunicado in English - not merely unable to speak clearly, but apparently without comprehension, but my uncle was able to hold a reasonable conversation with her in French until she died.   
 

Offline evan_au

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Speaking to teachers of young children, they see many children who are proficient in two languages.

However, when you have a child with delayed development, it is better to concentrate on getting them proficient in one language, and then worry about starting them on a second language,
 

Offline David Cooper

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It's also important to consider the total amount of input to the child. Some children are exposed to very little interaction while others get a lot, and I suspect that a lot of re tar dat ion (I split that word into parts in case it gets blocked) is caused by lack of interaction rather than there being anything wrong with the child's brain. If there is plenty of interaction though and the child is still backward, it may indeed be best to stick to one language, but that's something that would need careful study to make sure it really is the right thing to do, because a second native language might still bring greater benefits by helping to make their mind more flexible.
 

Offline cheryl j

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I've always wondered how babies and young children can keep the languages separate (at least I think they do) and can switch back and forth instead of mixing vocabulary words of both languages or using the grammar or word order of one language with the vocabulary of another. I can almost understand it if different people spoke one language or another to the child, but if both parents, or lots of family members switch between languages, how a small child learns what goes with what? Sometimes I think language acquisition is the most amazing change a human ever undergoes.
 

Offline alancalverd

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I've always wondered how babies and young children can keep the languages separate

Babies don't learn languages as isolated disciplines or separate words, because that's not how we teach them: they hear, and therefore learn, strings of sounds in context, and acquire most of them at a reflex level rather than part of conscious (analytic - process - synthetic) thought. I think this is why intelligent and articulate parents are often surprised that their children mutter extensive babble which suddenly turns into complete and very adult sentences - it's what they have always heard. Fluent linguists also respond reflexively in conversation, so an everyday question in French or English, say, will elicit a reflex and idiomatic response in the same language, but a technical question in German may require a conscious process of searching for the vocabulary as well as the content, and the response may be more "formally correct" than idiomatic. 

I guess it gets more difficult if you learn later in life but I've noticed that after a few days working in France I start "thinking in French" and sometimes find it difficult to switch back to English at the everyday level, so the reflex response hasn't died completely - I just need a few thousand more idioms!
 

Offline CliffordK

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I do find it sad how quickly a language can die off in a family.

So, and Italian American family.  The Grandmother may speak fluent Italian.  The mother some Italian, and the 3rd generation, NONE.

I do find it a bit disturbing the number of Latin Americans in the USA speaking exclusively Spanish.  However, I presume the school children are immersed in English. 

So, perhaps one way of preserving the heritage is to speak the native language at home, while speaking English in school, and in mixed social groups.
 

Offline alancalverd

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Something of a sidetrack, but if I emigrate from A to B it's presumably because I prefer the culture of B to that of A. So why would I want to "preserve the heritage"? And more to the point, why would my hosts at B want me to?
 

Offline CliffordK

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Something of a sidetrack, but if I emigrate from A to B it's presumably because I prefer the culture of B to that of A. So why would I want to "preserve the heritage"? And more to the point, why would my hosts at B want me to?
Good point.
A lot of people like to identify themselves by their ancestral heritage.  And, perhaps claiming to be a product of merged heritage sets them apart from others. 
Human races may also indicate heritage, so one might see a person with obvious Asian descent, without them knowing a word of their ancestral language. 

Of course, there are business and economic benefits of knowing multiple languages, and being able to interact with foreign tourists and foreign businesses.  And, if one chooses to visit relatives in the country of origin, it is always good to speak their language.
 

Offline thedoc

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Should one raise children to be multilingual?
« Reply #11 on: 11/12/2013 11:37:05 »
Tilda Rosander asked the Naked Scientists:

   

I have been listening to the show for quite some time and although it is always very interesting I feel like I don't have anything to contribute. This time it's different.



We are a multilingual family. We live in a Spanish speaking country with our three children, 7, 4 and 1 1/2 years old. I speak my language, Swedish, with the children and my partner speaks his, Spanish, with them. We both understand each others languages and can speak them reasonably fluently. When we met our only common language was English and that is what we speak to each other, but until now, never to the kids.



I have spoken Swedish with our eldest, 7, since he was born but it wasn't until we went to Sweden for three months running when he was 4 that he started speaking it. Before that he would respond to me, in Spanish, that I could speak Swedish if I wanted but he would speak like his dad. Probably because that was the language he used at day care. When we went to Sweden it took him weeks before he spoke Swedish, but then he made the switch and didn't speak one word of Spanish, even if someone spoke Spanish to him. As we returned to Argentina, again it took him two weeks to start speaking Spanish again, but by then he could switch between the languages freely. Two years later he was six and when we were walking in the woods he suddenly spoke to me in a rather good English. To my surprise he had internalized our conversations over his head and the movies he's been watching in English and he was able to turn that into an active language.



The four year old started speaking when we were in Sweden so until he started daycare in Spanish seven months ago that was his main language. Now he switches between them and sometimes even says something to me in Swedish just to repeat it to his dad in Spanish. Even though we both understand.



At the moment I have my seven year old with active Swedish, Spanish and English, my four year old with active Swedish and Spanish and passive English, and my 20 months old all three languages passive. He does not have any words yet, but that will come. All my children have been late beginners as they were trying to figure out the different languages.



My advice to a multilingual family is to speak your own language with the children, but it helps if both parents understand everything. We have one rule in our family and that is that you cannot swap language in the middle of a sentence. If you don't know a word you find out. But a conversation can contain several different languages depending on who you speak with, but the sentence has to keep the same language all the way through. It's a rule, but as all rules sometimes it gets broken.



When my sister in law comes to visit we add to the confusion of the people around us as we speak English to each other, she speaks Italian to her son, I speak Swedish to mine and the kids speak Spanish between themselves.



In mixed company I always speak Spanish with my children so as not to exclude anyone, unless I have to tell them off, then it is Swedish or English as it comes to me easier.



There are some minor inconveniences when you use two languages without really thinking about it. For me the biggest one is arranging a time to meet. In Swedish 8:30 would be "half nine", but in English it's "half eight". In Ireland I tried to avoid meeting someone at the half mark as I not only have to remember what time we arranged but in what language it was as well.



Saludos and hejdå,

Tilda





What do you think?
« Last Edit: 11/12/2013 11:37:05 by _system »
 

Offline alancalverd

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There's no doubt in my mind that future generations will consider it entirely normal to have at least one language for talking to friends and family, and another for talking to absolutely everyone else. Travel, mass culture, mobile phones, the internet, and the simple fact that business is ultimately more important than politics, means that within a couple of generations pretty well everyone will be fluent in English from the age of 8.
 

Offline CliffordK

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within a couple of generations pretty well everyone will be fluent in English from the age of 8.
I do think English will become the dominant language.  However, Spanish could easily become dominant, especially in the Americas.  And, of course, the influence of Chinese, or Russian shouldn't be underestimated. 
 

Offline David Cooper

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Tilda appears to be doing everything right.
 

Offline alancalverd

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However, Spanish could easily become dominant, especially in the Americas.  And, of course, the influence of Chinese, or Russian shouldn't be underestimated. 

Logically, Spanish would be the preferred choice of world language because, like German, its narrow provenance has resulted in very consistent spelling, with the advantage over German of less distinction between spoken and formal grammar. However history, and particularly the military and economic success of the English-speaking world in the 20th century, has determined the primary language of the world culture and the bastard nature of English has given it a unique resilience and flexibility for the acquisition of new words from other sources.

I think the simplicity of an alphabetic language is not lost on Chinese speakers, and the predominance of the Roman alphabet in Europe and southern Asia makes Russian an unlikely choice of second or world language for most people since the breakup of the USSR.

All of which casts a shadow over the oft-repeated moan of educationalists that the British are so monolingual. The question to be asked is what should our second language be? Welsh and Gaelic are regarded as first languages by many Brits, but are not spoken outside these islands, and a fair number of young native Brits are fluent in Urdu or Hindi at home. Whilst it might be fun to use Spanish, French, German or Italian on holiday, business throughout Europe is by common consent increasingly conducted in English - especially if you are collaborating on a product to be exported to the rest of the world. Per contra, Latin remains the lingua franca of law and medicine, and will continue to provide le mot juste until the zeitgeist changes.
« Last Edit: 09/12/2013 00:48:53 by alancalverd »
 

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