Thursday, March 12, 2009

Raising Bilingual Children

Bilingualism is definitely a field I am very interested in, being a sort of bilingual myslef. 

My bilingual experience is kind of...hum...let's say not so common. Which is probably what everyone who was raised in a biligual environment feels.
 The fact is, in my case, I lernt Portuguese when I first started speaking because I lived in Brazil and lived with my mother (a Brazilian), so there was no real reason/opportunity for me to learn Italian. Then we moved to Italy, and it was pretty natural for me to start speaking Italian. My dad, who always spoke Portuguese in Brazil, didn't want me to speak Portuguese in Italy. Also, because of some articles he read, he believed that raising a kid in two languages simultaneously would result in a delay of speech, or in a confusion. This is why I started learning Portugues all over again only when I moved back to Brazil, at the age of 16.

Of course, I am very into bilingualism, and, although I don't feel as a perfect native speaker in either Portuguese or Italian, I still feel they are sort of "my languages". Because of this feeling of not really, truly and entirely belonging to either one, I decided to turn to English as my safe-harbor: I know I will never be a perfect English native speaker, but I want to get as close to native-like English as I can. On the other hand, I feel no pressure from the language and the English community, and this makes me feel good and safe (much more than with Italian and Portuguese).

I was surfing the internet (as always), and I found a very nice article written by Kendall King and Lyn Fogle (Georgetown University) on how to raise bilingual children, which made me think of the way I was raised and how thing could have been a little different. 

In short, the article, which appeared in CAL's webstite (Center for Applied Linguistics, a Washington-DC based organization), dismantles, through reasearch, all the the beliefs on bilingualism in children that parents hold as true - and maybe are not.

It addresses mainly four points:
  • language delay due to bilingualism. According to research, this is not true. Language delay may in fact happen in children that have been exposed to a bilingual environmente, however it is not due to the bilingualism, but rather to other clinical causes (e.g. autism).
  • language confusion due to bilingualism. It has been proven that bilingualism does not cause any linguistic confusion in kids' brain. Moreover, the idea that a parents should speak only one language to the children is not accurate. A parent can easily code-switch between one language and the other with no harm for the child. However, in order for children to be raised as active bilingualism, they shold be encouraged in speaking the minority language along with the language that has a higher social status.
  • language learning through television and music cds. Although Dora and Diego cartoons, as well as songs  can be fun to watch and listen to, it has not been proven that they really help children be bilingual. It is necessary that children have a human contact with both languages for them to have a better perception (as well as a production) of the target language. So, TV and CDs can be used, but we cannot rely only on them to have children learn the minority language.
  • intelligence due to bilingualism. Some people believe that bilingual children develop stronger cognitive habilities than their monolingual peers. This is definitively not the case. Possibly, bilingual children will develop a better understanding of the linguitic system in which all natural languages work, but this is not 100% certain. As to the other cognitive fields, there is no evidence that bilingual children will have a better performance.
On the whole, I think tha, based on my experience, I agree with what the article shows us. However, I have to say I wasn't really brought up in a bilingualism environment and I was practically a monoligual kid throughout chidlhood and most of my adolescence.


Kraxpelax said...

Bilingual? I am. Swenglish. There's quite a Filthy Few of us.

Personal announcement!

My Art:

My Poetry:

My Philosophy:

I'm a dancer too! From Brazil the bossanova, from Sweden good old Stockholm bugg - that's really something!

- Peter Ingestad, Sweden

adry mendes said...

would love to hear more about good old Stockholm bugg :)

wow, this is good not many people speak both Swedish and English at the native-speaker level...this should give u some advantage in case you want to work as a translator, teacher, interpreter...right?