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A child in a bilingual family: what are the benefits of bilinguals and how to educate them


Source: MC Today

When a child grows up in a bilingual society, how does this affect his speech? Is this good or bad? About this in the material for 1843magazine argues Lane green. publishes a translation of the material in the first person.

Photo: Shutterstock

Four-year-old Henry sometimes speaks English like a Dane. His father, Robert Lane Green, is convinced that this has its advantages.

Her is a bad guy! (garbled "She's a bad guy!" − прим. ред.), says my son Henry to his brother Jack. They are watching Disney's The Little Mermaid and the comment is about the sea witch Ursula.

This is not the first and certainly not the last such moment. She (English "she" - прим. ред.) - one of the most common words in the English language, but Henry got confused in them and gave out her (English "her, her" - прим. ред.). He recently turned four, and at this age he should already be able to distinguish she from her. Is it a problem in a bilingual environment?

Learn two languages ​​better since childhood

My wife is a Danish, we met and got married in New York. I tried my best to learn Danish - partly because she agreed to leave her homeland and move to me. It seemed to me that it would be honest, because I have to somehow join in her world. Not knowing the native language of a person close to you, you will not be able to fully penetrate his thoughts and understand him.

Anyone who has learned a foreign language as an adult knows how difficult it is: grammar books, flashcards, pronunciation problems and constant "uh-uh" when trying to speak fluently. To grow up a real bilingual (a person who is fluent in two languages ​​- прим. ред.) from birth is much easier.

Many parents will agree with this. The new German-English school in our London area is packed. Another bilingual (French-English) school not far from our old house in Brooklyn is also overcrowded.

Parents usually have two strategies: either “one parent - one language”, or “one language at home, the other outside.” None of these approaches would work for us, because I have a son from his first marriage, Jack, who speaks only English. And although my wife speaks with Jack in his native language, she communicates with Henry exclusively in Danish.

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Daddy, come heredown! (distorted "Dad, come here"). Like all bilingual children, Henry sometimes mixes the words or grammar of both languages. In Danish it would sound like Kom herned, but come heredown in English sounds idiotic (albeit pretty sweet).

Bilinguals and monolinguals are developing at the same speed, but the former often make mistakes, and both languages ​​are mixed in their general vocabulary. Therefore, they are usually slightly behind in the vocabulary of the language in which classes are taught at school.

When such children enter an educational institution, many teachers, having read the “authoritative” opinions of doctors who are not familiar with this topic, tell parents to speak with the child only in the language of the “majority”. Many parents give up and do just that.

Bilingual children are smarter

One hundred years ago, the problem of low IQ among children in families where they did not speak English was blamed on bilingualism. But the problem was not in bilingualism, but in poverty, although researchers probably worried that linguistic diversity could impede the formation of a nation.

Today everything has turned upside down: scientists are increasingly talking about the "benefits of bilinguals." The fairy godmother of this direction is Ellen Bialistok, a researcher from York University in Canada.

She found that in “native” bilinguals (i.e., people who originally grew up in a bilingual environment), cognitive abilities (thinking, spatial orientation, understanding, calculation, learning, speech, and so on - прим. ред.) are more pronounced than in monolinguals. It seems that such advantages are the result of constant mental exercise, because you have to constantly switch between languages ​​​​and “suppress” one of them.

According to Bialistok research, dementia in bilinguals begins on average four years later than in monolinguals. Other scientists have determined that bilingual brain functions recover faster after a stroke.

However, for parents who are more worried about a child’s life in the early years than in the latter, there is another plus. Bialistok believes that bilinguals have a better developed executive function, that is, the ability to plan and perform complex tasks.

For example, scientists conduct research using the so-called Simon’s task: they propose to press a button to the left or right of themselves when the word “left” or “right” appears on the screen. It seems to be easy. That's just the word "left" appears on the right half of the screen - and vice versa. Bilinguals can do this much better than monolinguals.

Two languages ​​are like two personalities

It's an OCT-topus! (“This is an octopus!”) Henry shows his friends a toy octopus, while demonstrating a British accent worthy of the queen herself. At home, he imitates the American accent that I and his half-brother speak with. Many bilinguals claim that when they speak different languages ​​they feel completely different people. We already notice how Henry instinctively modulates intonations depending on the context.

Each language has its own special spirit, and a person, speaking in another language, becomes, as it were, a different personality. Many consider German the language of logic, Italian the language of romance, and English the language of practicality.

Two linguists of the beginning of the twentieth century, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Worf, suggested that the language a person speaks plays an important role in shaping his worldview. Pretty romantic performance.

Today, researchers have again brought to light the ideas of Sapir and Worf in an attempt to rehabilitate them. Scientists have found that speaking a different language can force you to pay attention to details that you would otherwise ignore. For example, there are different levels of formality in languages ​​where there are both formal and informal forms of the word "you/you". Russian-speakers distinguish between two shades of blue much faster, since there are two separate words for them in Russian. All this, of course, is interesting, but hardly refers to the "worldview".

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Explain why people feel different languages ​​in different ways can be much easier. A language that is only spoken at home in the family can cause a feeling of homeliness and warmth, and a language spoken at work encourages serious reflection and a businesslike attitude.

In other words, this phenomenon is probably not so much about the structure of the language itself (Spanish, for example, is “warm”, while English is “serious”), but rather about associations (Hispanics, speaking Spanish, remember friends and family, relax, but when switching to English, they mentally fasten all the buttons).

Learning a new language as an adult is no longer the same, but still useful

The languages ​​that we learn already in adulthood and are imperfect (like my Danish) do not have the same effect in research. However, they can still help us open our minds to other points of view.

The second language constantly reminds us that all people are different, we all have different knowledge and points of view that are different from ours.

Some writers have specifically studied the new language to expand their consciousness. Among those who achieved success with works in non-native languages, one can note Konrad, Nabokov and Beckett. There are opposite cases, for example, Jumpa Lahiri. She took place as a writer in native English, but later forced herself to write exclusively in Italian.

It's funny that people really begin to think differently in the language they learned when they grew up. They can more consciously perceive the language itself, think differently when they use a second language for work.

Psychologists have found that such people more confidently and purposefully answer test questions. In one study, they succeeded in avoiding cognitive traps. When they were asked a question with an obvious incorrect answer, they thought more carefully and found a not so obvious, but correct answer.

Instead of deducing

Snoofy speaks Danish and Eng…Engl…English! (“Snoofy speaks Danish and Eng… English… English!”) After struggling to articulate a complex combination of consonants, Henry hands me a toy dog ​​for me to wish him good night.

He'll be great. Shortly before he was four, he began to speak in two languages, which he knows. The son is already figuring out which of the two languages ​​his favorite books are written in. He knows that his mother speaks Danish and his brother and I speak English.

Henry reached another important milestone in his development. Toy dog ​​Snoofy acts as a cipher of his emotions. Snufi is tired when his little master is tired. Sometimes Snoofy doesn't want to eat vegetables. And now Snoofy is bilingual and proud of it.

"Good night, Snoofy," I say in English, kissing the top of the dog's head and adding in Danish, "God nat, Snoofy." Henry breaks into a happy smile.

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