Living in a new country opens new opportunities through jobs, family and even
romance. But what happens when love is kindled? When the knot is tied and kids are made? Do you teach your children your native language, or that of your spouse? Maybe both?
Because of such a huge presence of the English language throughout the world, it can be easy to let go of past ties and grab onto new ones. One of the biggest advantages of raising children in a foreign country is the opportunity to teach them the country’s language along with your native one. The child will speak it in school, with their friends and even family, and getting familiar with it sooner rather than later will help them feel more comfortable and ‘at home’ in their surroundings.
A good friend of mine, we’ll call her Madison, is Mexican born. Her mother fluently speaks both English and Spanish, but for various reasons, Madison didn’t learn Spanish growing up, just English. Not only does this prevent her from getting certain jobs that may require someone bilingual, but it hinders her ability of being as proficient in Spanish if she were to learn it as an adult.
According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language (ACTFL), beginning foreign language learning early sets the stage for the student to develop more advance levels of proficiency. While it is entirely possible to learn a foreign language as an adult, it does becomes more difficult.
Adults have enough plasticity to learn a language, according to a study published in 1960, and unlike children, adults do have an advantage in language learning when it comes to discipline and understanding of the language, but learning that language can take more time.
Younger learners, according to the ACTFL, are less likely to develop an accent and children are naturally very curious which can transmit to learning a new language more easily.
While teaching your children a language that they may never use again may seem counterproductive to some, studies show that it’s really not. Learning a second language may open your children’s world, help them develop a closer bond with the culture from which they originate, and even, as mentioned before, it could mean more job opportunities than their monolingual counterparts in the future.
So take some time and help them understand the culture of their second language without fear or doubt.