Written to the song: My Way — Calvin Harris
“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things” — Flora Lewis
How do children learn multiple languages at once? Are there any perks to growing up in a bilingual household? Does the brain mix up the languages?
Language is comprehended by first, recognizing the sounds in the utterance. Then, the listener must access their morphological and semantic knowledge, to identify what the word means and to differentiate the word if it has multiple meaning by the context (ex: “bank” — is it a financial institute or the land by a river). Finally, the listener analyses the syntax in the message which is a complex process that involves the use of many different cues, word orders, class, function, semantics, and prosody (Krause, 2012).
In multilingual households, infants go through the same developmental stages regardless of how many languages are spoken in their household, ensuring that infants in a bilingual environment can learn both languages effortlessly and simultaneously.
Studies on speech perception indicate that when children are young they can tell the difference between all phonemes (speech sounds) used in a word, but with maturity the brain learns to disregard unneeded information, such as unknown language sounds. Therefore, it is much better to introduce new languages to children right from the start. For example, 6 month old Japanese infants can tell the difference between ‘r’ and ‘l’ in English, but by 12 months they cannot. As well, the earlier one learns a language the less of an accent the child will have. This is due to the plasticity phase where children have a critical period to shape and strengthen the different language areas of the brain (Nacamuli, 2015).
Studies show that bilingualism actually affects a child’s way of thinking (Desjardins, 2015). We have all had the “nature” versus “nurture” debate, where the “set mindset” states that one is born with certain abilities and the “growth mindset” is the idea that through practice individuals can change their fate. Concordia University released a study finding that bilingual children share the belief that learning is through practice and not innate. As well, they demonstrated the mindset that bilingual children will grow up to be more open to learning about different cultures and experiences rather than creating stereotypes and having a set-mindset. How cool is that?
Language is a method for communicating information such as ideas, thoughts, and emotion. The perk about knowing another language (or multiple) is that you have another way to express yourself as some words are untranslatable and have a different impact depending on the context. Growing up in a bilingual home for day one has so many benefits for infants.
Desjardins, Clea. “How Bilingualism Affects Children’s Beliefs.” How Bilingualism Affects Children’s Beliefs. N.p., 13 Jan. 2015. Web. 08 Oct. 2016.
Krause, Mark A., and Daniel Paul Corts. Psychological Science: Modeling Scientific Literacy. Boston: Pearson, 2012. Print.
White, Lori. “Didn’t Learn a Second Language as a Kid? No Worries. Here’s Why You Might Want to Learn One Anyway.” Upworthy. N.p., 02 July 2015. Web. 08 Oct. 2016