I grew up speaking two languages: English and Korean. I spoke English with my dad and Korean with my mom. I spoke English everywhere else, having grown up in an English speaking country.
The reason that I grew up in a bilingual household is that my mom simply wanted me to be able to communicate with her side of the family. Her family — especially the older generation — couldn’t speak English very well. Also, even my mother was not fluent in English. She was certainly able to get by, but at her age, it was hard for her to improve her English skills the older she got.
So, having grown up in a bilingual family, it seemed natural to me that I extend it to my children. I knew about the benefits of being able to speak more than one language, particularly in today’s highly diverse, technological era. What’s more, my parents constantly emphasized how lucky I was to be able to speak both, pointing out that when I got older then I could get a job as a translator.
Needless to say, that did not come true. And I don’t mind because I prefer just speaking the language without the added pressure of whether or not I translated something correctly. Also, I knew how hard it was to be a translator, as I was often the interpreter between my parents. They could communicate to each other pretty well after a decade or so of marriage, but sometimes they still needed a little bit of help communicating certain things. I didn’t mind, but sometimes there was a bit of a struggle with the language barrier.
But despite the struggle, I strongly believe that it is incredibly important to teach kids — particularly young children — a second language. This is the time when their brains are still young and developing. This is the time when they are able to absorb so much information, including language. Speaking as someone who has learned a second language at such a young age, plus a couple more languages at an older age, it is considerably easier to learn a language the younger you are.
Here I will give you 3 reasons why you should teach your kids a second language.
1–Communicate with more people
The best thing about being able to speak more than one language is that you can communicate with people from different places. Because I can speak not just English, but also Korean and German, I can talk to more people, and even more importantly, in their own tongue. I don’t have to sound like an ignorant American, rattling off a bunch of English words, which the other person might not be comfortable or familiar with. I can show my appreciation for not just their language, but their culture, by speaking to them in their language.
Besides the ability to be able to converse with more people, I feel like I have a better understanding of people and how they speak. Communication is not just the words that come out of our mouths. It is also body language, gestures, facial expressions, and so much more.
It is also really cool when I can simply switch gears and shift from English to Korean and then to German. I usually don’t have to think about it. Depending on who I am conversing with, that is what language will come out of my mouth. I don’t even have to think, or tell myself to speak in this language or that language. It just happens. It is like all the languages are all interconnected in my brain, but at the same time, they function independently from each other. Although there are times when I have accidently used words from two languages in one sentence. That can happen, and that’s perfectly normal. It’s just a bilingual quirk.
2–Improves both IQ and EQ performance
I strongly believe that being bilingual can make you more intelligent, mentally, emotionally and socially. In fact, studies have shown that there are parts of the brain that are more active when people have to switch languages. Furthermore, bilingual people are able to process information better. This means that they are more efficient at learning new things, including a third or fourth language.
Growing up, when I learned how to speak Spanish in high school and German in college, I found it to be an easier experience. Because I had more words in my brain than other monolingual people, I was able to form associations between the words in the new language and the languages that I already knew. If anything, forming associations helped me to remember and later recall those words in the language. This is why I believe that I had an easier time learning a third and fourth language.
3–Improves cultural awareness
One big thing about learning multiple languages is that it increases your cultural awareness. Because I can speak Korean, I can communicate with my mother’s side of the family. I also feel as if I am more connected to that culture simply by speaking the language. Of course, having grown up in America, I am not super well versed in Korean culture, but I have the propensity to learn because of the language skills that I have acquired.
Similarly, learning German and Spanish have also made me more aware of both German and Spanish cultures. It is as if learning a new language drives this motivation to learn as much as possible. Language is a big part of a country’s culture. It is how people communicate within that culture. If you don’t know the language, it is that much harder to learn or absorb the culture.
As a child growing up bilingual, as well as a parent with bilingual children, I find it highly important that children be given the necessary skills to learn a second, or even third, language. It allows the child to be able to easily and smoothly go back and forth, activating the language and creative functions in their brains. It also improves their intelligence, mentally and socially. Furthermore, it provides a strong connection to their own and others’ culture.
And you, my dear reader, what languages can you speak, or what languages would you like to learn?
Other sources: The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual