"Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Gisele Bündchen do it, so why can't we do it too?" Some monolingual parents ask when they hear about the Hollywood stars, rich or celebs, for whom it has become trendy to bring up children to be bilingual.
Thanks to recent studies on the relationship between bilingualism and cognition, we now know that learning a second language does benefit our brains in such ways that it pay off later in life. We also know that bilingual children usually perform better at school than the monolinguals with respect to their baseline results.
So, is bringing up children as bilingual individuals worth the trouble for every family? How likely are you to raise bilingual children?
THE TRILINGUAL FAMILY.
Say Dad is Italian, Mum is British and the family lives in the Germany. Both parents speak a different language at home, whilst the children speak the local language with their friends and at school. In this case, it is obvious and perfectly natural for the children to become bilingual and most probably even become trilingual.
THE BILINGUAL FAMILY.
This time, Dad is Italian, Mum is British and the family lives in Britain. Only one of the parents speaks a different language at home, whilst the other speaks the local language, which is also spoken by their children with their friends and taught at school. In this case, the children will also quite naturally become bilingual.
THE MONOLINGUAL FAMILY ABROAD.
Another example is with both Mum and Dad being British, but the family living in Italy. The only language spoken at home is English, whilst the local language is Italian. The children have a great chance to become bilingual because they very likely study in a local school.
THE MONOLINGUAL FAMILY IN THEIR HOME COUNTRY.
The final example is with both Mum and Dad being British, and the family living in Britain. The only language spoken daily is English. Here, the only reason the children would become bilingual is if their parents decide to make them study in a bilingual school or take private lessons with a tutor.
Monolingual, bilingual and trilingual parents can only succeed in raising bilingual children if they are determined, patient and committed to it. This means, for example, watching DVDs together and reading books to their little ones in the other language, using educational resources and activities widely available on the internet, taking them to community clubs and groups where they will be able to communicate with others in the language, making them discover the culture associated to the language and the countries where it is spoken, etc.
Parents should not suddenly decide to raise their children as bilingual just for the sake of a trend, especially when it origins from the rich and celebs, who have money, nannies and private tutors to deal with their children's education.
Bringing up children is not a game. It is a commitment.
Bringing up bilingual children is very much the same, but this kind of commitment must come from both the parents and the children, because it always requires an extra effort to speak a foreign language, whether it is spoken at home or not, whether it is natural or not.