Raising a child to be bilingual is not only the trend du jour but, to many parents, it seems only practical. As the world economy becomes increasingly global, many people feel that raising their child to speak more than one language will give them a leg up in the workforce. Beyond that, some parents feel that the ability to speak multiple languages lends their child a level of sophistication. While there are many reasons to make the argument for raising a bilingual child, new research suggests that it might be a much more difficult process than most parents realize.
You often hear that it’s much easier for a person to acquire an additional language during childhood than it is during adulthood. While there may be truth to that logic, children don’t necessarily absorb everything they see and hear in the exact way we’ve been led to believe.
“There is nothing magical in the child’s brain that allows them to learn any language they hear without lots of environmental support,” Erika Hoff, a professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University and author of books on language development, tells Quartz. “Parents who want to raise their children to be bilingual are swimming upstream because the environment in the US is not supportive. You’re not going to have a child who is two monolinguals in one.”
For parents that speak English as a second language, they may have a strong desire to pass their native language onto their children. However, research shows that this is often an uphill battle, and kids may simply prefer to speak English at home.
“The typical trend is that the first [generation] prefers to speak Spanish, the second generation is bilingual, and the third generation is generally monolingual,” Jody Agius Vallejo, an associate professor of sociology at USC who studies immigrant integration, told the Los Angeles Times.
While it might not be the easy task that you first imagined, parents determined to teach their children more than one language can make it happen. Experts stress that it’s important to have patience, not to force the issue and to immerse the child in the second language as much as possible.