by Christina Bosemark, founder of the Multilingual Children's Association
I speak Swedish and my husband's native language is English. When we had our two children, we had no doubt that we wanted to raise them with equal access to both languages. Now, years later, when I've made promoting multilingual child-raising not just my avocation, but my vocation as well, people ask me for the straight story, warts and all. "What is the difference, raising bilingual children?" "What do you wish you knew before you got started?"
It's clear to most of us that speaking multiple languages is a good thing, and learning multiple languages in the early years is a nearly effortless means to fluency. Your multilingual child will have a head start in schools during a time when more and more of them are requiring a foreign language. And once your kid knows two languages, the move to three, or four is much easier. Counterintuitively, the effects of growing up bilingually include superior reading and writing skills in both languages, as well as better analytical, social, and academic skills. Parents who are themselves involved in high level careers are already well aware that professional prospects abound for those with fluency in multiple languages. Helen Riley-Collins, president of Aunt Ann's In-House Staffing in San Francisco, who caters to many clients in high tech, investment banking and finance, says that more than half her clients request nannies who speak another language. "They want to give their children a head start in business in 20 years." So, that all sounds well and good, but what are the real drawbacks?
There's no doubt that multilingual children have more advantages, but it can feel a bit overwhelming to someone already struggling with diapers and feeding schedules; however, I have yet to meet a single parent who regretted the decision. But, the appreciation from your child, as usual, is probably another 20 years out.
Okay, if fore-warned is fore-armed, then what is the best day-to-day method for raising multilingual children? Here's a hint -- since the first five years of your child's language development is so crucial, the key to success is closely tied to his primary environment, the family. That is the topic for next article in this series: Raising Bilingual Children: The Different Methods to Success
Christina Bosemark is the founder of the Multilingual Children's Association, your web-guide to raising bilingual children with expert advice, parent discussions, resource directory and articles. She is also mother of two trilingual daughters and co-founder of the Scandinavian immersion school in San Francisco.