Multilingual and bilingual children: benefits and challenges

Multilingual and bilingual children: benefits and challenges

Benefits of raising multilingual and bilingual children

Raising multilingual or bilingual children is good not only for your children, but also for your family and your community.

Children: benefits of multilingualism and bilingualism
For children, speaking more than one language is often linked to:

  • better academic results - this is because multilingual or bilingual children can often concentrate better, are better at solving problems, understand language structures better, and are better at multitasking
  • more diverse and interesting career opportunities later in life.

Also, if your children grow up speaking more than one language, they might have a better sense of self-worth, identity and belonging. This comes from:

  • feeling good about their heritage
  • feeling confident about communicating and connecting with extended family members and people speaking other languages
  • being able to enjoy music, movies, literature and so on in more than one language.

Families: benefits of multilingualism and bilingualism
For your family, multilingualism and developing your language in your children:

  • improves communication among your family members
  • enhances emotional bonds
  • makes it easier for you and your children to be part of your culture
  • boosts your family's sense of cultural identity and belonging.

Communities: benefits of multilingualism and bilingualism
For your wider community, when children speak more than one language, it means that:

  • everyone in the community gets a better appreciation of different languages and cultures
  • children can more easily travel and work in different countries and cultures when they grow up
  • children understand and appreciate different cultures.

Possible challenges of raising multilingual and bilingual children

Raising multilingual or bilingual children does have its challenges, including handling pressure to speak only English. It can also sometimes mean a lot of work, and it's a long-term commitment.

For example, when you're raising multilingual or bilingual children, you need to:

  • stick with your heritage language, even when there's pressure to choose English
  • keep yourself and your children motivated to use your heritage languages
  • help your children understand the benefits of multilingualism and bilingualism
  • make sure your children get lots of chances to hear and use their second and other languages
  • talk to your children's teachers and get their support for your efforts
  • get support for yourself - for example, by talking to friends and family who are raising multilingual or bilingual children and finding resources in your community, like bilingual playgroups.

If you sometimes feel like these challenges are too hard, it might help to think about the benefits of multilingualism - especially the way it can help you and your children develop stronger family bonds. Sharing support, advice and experiences with other parents can also be a big help.

Multilingualism and bilingualism: frequently asked questions

Can children understand the differences between languages?
Children can understand the differences between languages at a young age and learn two or more languages at the same time. For example, they realise very quickly that they need to speak German to Grandma, and English to the teacher.

How does multilingualism and bilingualism affect the way children learn English?
Children who grow up in a family where parents have only limited English do better at learning English in school if they keep speaking their family languages at home. That's because a solid base in their first language makes it easier for them to learn a second one.

How does multilingualism and bilingualism affect literacy skills?
Multilingual and bilingual children who are exposed to more than one written language - for example, Spanish and English - or even different writing systems - for example, Chinese and English - can read and write English at high levels. They might also have a better understanding of the relationship between how words look and sound than their peers who speak English only.

How does multilingualism and bilingualism affect speech development?
All children develop speech at different rates. Learning more than one language at the same time won't affect how early or quickly your child learns to speak. Sometimes multilingual or bilingual children mix their languages for a while, but this sorts itself out when they understand that they're using more than one language.