Why should I consider bilingualism for my child?
So, you want your child to be bilingual? Or maybe you are intrigued, but aren't sure it's worth it?
There are many reasons to raise your child with more than one language. These may include the capacity to travel confidently, the ability to interact directly with extended family, or even expanded career options down the road.
Let's not forget one of the biggest reasons for raising your child to be bilingual: cognitive benefits. For children, there are links shown between bilingualism and "executive function," that is, the ability of the brain to focus on tasks selectively when faced with distractions. Benefits may also include improved academic performance, higher mathematical reasoning, and more.
Benefits of bilingualism do not end with childhood. There are even studies showing a significant positive impact on cognitive benefits later in life, such as delaying the onset of age-related dementia.
François Grosjean, a prominent longtime researcher of bilingualism, points out that one can become bilingual at any stages of life (See "Myths about bilingualism" at https://www.francoisgrosjean.ch/myths_en.html). Many of us can cite examples of people we know who immigrated in middle age or later and ultimately learned to communicate in their new homeland's dominant language. And contrary to popular belief, children do not "learn languages faster" than adults, per se. At least, at the beginning. Adults actually have cognitive advantages over children in beginning language learning, because of our ability to reason, study, and understand systems in more complex, abstract ways.
But we also all know that, barring moving abroad somewhere, the barriers to learning a language on our own late in life - in practice - can also be huge: the amount of study (or, at least, exposure) required, the interference of career or family on practice time, and the difficulty of acquiring a native-like accent, seemingly no matter our efforts.
How much easier (and arguably better) for your child to begin at a young age! Children are primed to learn languages. Believe it or not, as long as they do not have congenital hearing impairment, babies actually begin priming to "speak" in utero, from simply listening voices from outside. They start imitating the language around them immediately after birth, even before they can talk: newborns from different countries cry differently from each other!
In other words, if your child is still young, their ears are ready to listen! Just another reason for exposing your child to a second language with serious intentionality, and raising your child bilingually from the get-go, or as early as possible.
If you haven't gotten started yet, no time like the present.
Now you know WHY. Stay tuned for some tips on HOW to do it, if you need ideas to get started, or are looking to inject some renewed vitality into your attempts at bilingualism in your family.