How many languages do you speak? Your mother-tongue and maybe a second one? In the past this was probably true for most people in the world. But people travel a lot more and live abroad for months or years after school and university. Hence it is rather common nowadays to even learn a third and fourth language.
However, imagine you grew up already speaking two or even three languages. Confusing, you might think… or impossible. False. There are many families raising their children bi- or trilingual. Up to the age of seven it is the ideal time to introduce a second language to children when raising them bilingual. After that, and research has shown that, for instance teenagers are more self-conscious about making mistakes and might not give the second language a try.
Multilingualism comes in multiple forms; to be precise there are four types. Firstly there are families who send their children to foreign language schools although they do not speak the language or have ever lived in that country. Secondly there are monolingual families who live in a country whose people speak a different language. Thirdly the mother as well as the father speak different languages and speak to their children in both. Lastly, and this is true multilingualism, there are families in which the parents each speak different languages but also live in a different-language environment. Consequently children learn at least three languages while growing up.
See in the video below this multilingual little girl counting numbers in different languages.
There are many advantages of multilingualism. Children are exposed to a different culture from an early age which makes them stay open to possibilities and accept that diverse people do different things. Plus, the sociableness of children is enhanced as they are able to build bridges to new relationships because they can talk to various people. On top of that bilingual children have potential economic advantages in the future because languages will not be a barrier.
On the other hand there might also be possible disadvantages that should not be ignored at this point. There will definitely be the risk of children starting to mix the languages they can speak. Also the family will have to invest more time in the child’s education if they want him to be able to read and write in all languages. But putting in the extra effort will add valuable skills to children and help them in various ways for the rest of their lives.
To pose the question from the beginning once more: How many languages do you speak? Would you have liked to grow up bilingual?