What is bilingualism?

You can find different definitions, depending on the research. Bilingualism can be different. But there are two most popular types of bilingualism. The first is when parents speak different languages. The second is when children speak one language at home and a different one in kindergarten or at school. The popularity of bilingualism is growing due to globalisation.  

What’s essential to understand is that bilinguals do not study language as children do in a typical classroom. They “perceive” the language and the world, grow with it, as they live immersed in this language, in this linguistic, language environment. However, bilinguals usually have one dominating language, depending on what environment they are more immersed in, what language they’re more exposed to.

Peculiarities of bilingualism

Also, as it is said in The British Council research, there’s a correlation between learning languages and cognitive skills. For bilinguals, it’s much easier to learn foreign languages as they already have two language systems in their mind. The researches have shown that bilinguals concentrate and focus better on non-verbal tasks, for example, Maths. According to the researches, bilinguals are usually more creative, broad-minded and they can think out of the box. Moreover, they can look at things from different perspectives. They have better communicative skills and think broadly. In the future bilingualism open doors to studies, work, cultural development and exchange, and communication with foreigners.

Bilinguals have more potential for languages, although the same factors are important for them as for the other children: diligence, motivation, aptitude for certain languages: e.g. a child can be good at the European languages, but not at the Asian ones. When a person is bilingual, it doesn’t mean they are a polyglot, even though it often happens that they dedicate their life to languages.

Challenges of bilingualism

It’s also worth mentioning that bilinguals have a disadvantage: a bilingual child has less vocabulary in each language than a child of the same age and speaking the same language. In addition, the vocabulary depends on the context it’s learnt — for example, a home language can differ from the school one. But the total vocabulary size of all languages a child speaks is bigger.

Nowadays there’s a tendency among parents who speak a language, usually English, but they’re not native speakers: they want to “grow” bilingual children or at least create a language environment and make children “dive” into the language as deep as it’s possible. It’s an arguable topic. However, there are certain things to consider. Firstly, make sure you speak fluently and your level is Advanced or Proficient. Children have a silent period when they do not speak for a while, but they absorb everything, including parents’ mistakes, that can become fossilized mistakes in the future.

Secondly, choose a learning strategy. There’re three main strategies:

  • when one parent always speaks one language, and another one — another language, no matter where they are.
  • when you always use one language at home, but in kindergarten or at home a child speaks another language. For example, you speak Russian at home, and your child goes to an English school.
  • when you use a language for certain activities, e.g. you watch cartoons or play games in English. However, this way is less systematic and the learning becomes sporadic.

All these strategies work, you can choose what’s more convenient for you, but what’s absolutely necessary is consistency and regularity.

Finally, always keep in mind your child’s motivation. Children need various activities, they need to speak and not just do the exercises in English. Speak, read in English, tell interesting stories, watch cartoons and movies, play board games. The more opportunities to learn a language a child has, the more effective the learning is.

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