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Bilingual Benefits – Why Bilingual Children have a head start

There are so many fantastic benefits for raising a bilingual child. Especially when you speak a second language take advantage of this unique opportunity and give your children the gift of a second language. Kids are not like sponges and it does take some effort, but the benefits of raising a bilingual child are so diverse that bilingual children are considered to have a head start.

Learning a second language in school varies wildly depending on where you are in the world: in Europe, most countries require children to learn a second language, often starting in pre-school. In the United States, there’s no national mandate, although many schools require a year or two of language studies once a student reaches high school.

Countries in which English is the main language often have a disadvantage when it comes to kids learning a second language. The feeling might be that as many people abroad speak English there is no need to learn another language if you speak English.  Why it matters that US students lag behind the rest of the world in learning a second language.

Worldwide, bilingualism is the rule rather than the exception. It’s estimated that at least half of the world’s population speaks more than one language. Some estimates go as high as 60-75%! (source)

We are definitely biased, we are happy to admit, but we think there are so many advantages that you can only benefit from when you are bilingual that learning a second language is well worth the effort.  If you are weighing the question of if you should expose your children to a second (or third!) language, these amazing benefits are sure to convince you:

1. Bilingual Children have a Cultural Advantage

Language and culture are deeply interconnected. When you grow up speaking more than one language, you gain the privilege of being exposed to other cultures. A wider perspective opens you up to all sorts of possibilities! Take food, for example. Growing up with both tarte tatin and ensaimadas in your vocabulary is definitely an advantage worth noting! And what a Yummy benefit it is.

2. Bilingual Children have a Head Start when it comes to Academic Success

There are tons of studies out there showing that bilingual children have an academic advantage. Switching back and forth between two languages gives the brain quite a workout! This flexibility and adaptability translates into an advantage when learning all sorts of skills, from math concepts to reading ability, and beyond! (source).  Furthermore, learning to read in another phonetic language can help kids when learning to read in English.  Sounds crazy, but it is true, look at why that is.

3. Bilingual Children Have More Social Opportunities

The more languages you speak, the more people you can talk to! You’re more likely to be able to strike up conversations with people you meet in person, or online! If you can speak a person’s native language, they tend to like and trust you more readily. Switching to the language they are most comfortable with is an important sign of respect. As Nelson Mandela once said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” 

You would be surprised how people react when you can speak to them in their native language and if it is a bilingual child that reaction is even sweeter.  A cute anecdote when my daughter was 5 and we visited the US West Coast.  We went to a coffee shop where my daughter ordered an ice cream sundae.  When the sundae arrived, the spoon was missing, so I told my daughter to go to the counter and ask for a spoon.  She first tried in English but soon noticed that it was not working, she realized that most people behind the counter were speaking in Spanish, so she tried again in Spanish. Not only did she come back with a spoon, but also a second scoop of ice cream and a little ego-boost. So definitely a second language can be incredibly beneficial for the mind (and the sweet tooth).

4. Brain Power & Fitness in Bilingual Kids

The bilingual brain has tons more neural connections as compared to the monolingual brain. And that’s not just theory—bilingual people literally have more gray matter than monolinguals!

Bilingualism keeps your brain sharp and has even been shown to decrease a person’s likelihood of having dementia or Alzheimer’s in their later years. (source)

5. Bilingual Children Have A Stronger Personal Identity

Bilingual children tend to have a strong sense of personal identity, which leads to a great deal of self-confidence and curiosity about the world. When I first arrived in the US, I noticed how many children in school, who came from a Latino background could not speak Spanish.  For most of them, this was a matter of embarrassment, but they simply had not had the opportunity.  Often their parents had been told by well-meaning, but now in hindsight, misinformed teachers and doctors that they should not confuse their children with a second language. Many of them worked hard in college to then learn Spanish, in order to have a stronger connection with their roots and a stronger sense of connection.

When I speak to bilingual adults, I have yet to hear anyone complain that their parents taught them a certain language, but I often hear individuals regret that they did not learn their heritage language as a child.

6. Bilingual Children Will Have It Easier When Travelling

This is a fairly obvious advantage, but it’s also a huge one! When you are traveling to another country or even another region, having multiple languages can keep you out of tricky situations. Need to find the nearest bathroom in a hurry? You’re twice as likely to find someone who can communicate those important directions to you!

7. Bilingual Kids Have More Extensive Career Opportunities

In an increasingly global society, more and more employers prefer to hire bilingual employees. This is especially true in industries like hospitality, health care, technology, and even the military.

8. Bilingual Children Show More Empathy and Tolerance

Understanding more than one language often translates into more empathy and tolerance for people and ideas that are different. When we can see things from another person’s perspective, we are better able to show kindness toward others. Why is that?  Because children that grow up with more than one language learn from a very young age that there is more than one way to do things, so often they will first try to understand why the other person has a different idea.

9. Bilingual Children Don’t Need Translation

Ever heard the phrase lost in translation? There are some excellent translations out there, but nothing beats understanding an author’s words in the original language. Bilingual children relish the idea of being able to “show-off” a tiny bit and get a super ego-boost when they can help someone with a translation.  Some hilarious google translate fails

10. Bilingual Children Can Focus Better

All of those extra neural connections created by bilingualism train the brain to focus better. Bilingual children are able to concentrate on one particular task while blocking out extra, or competing, information. The bilingual brain allows children to switch back and forth between different tasks without getting confused or distracted.

Bonus: Super Cute Language Mix-Ups

When you raise bilingual kids, you have your own dual-language version of Kids Say the Darndest Things! I always get a giggle out of little language mix-ups, like the one @belenilla sent us after reading our own TimTimTom Underwater AdventureMom, look there is a sharkon!

Are you raising a bilingual kiddo? What languages is your child learning?  What benefits do you see for them?

Let us help you in raising bilingual children with our TimTimTom – bilingual books for children.


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