Benefits of Raising Multilingual Kids

At Näpp, we focus on helping expat parents raise multilingual kids while living abroad, mostly by offering them a babysitter that speaks their native language and understands their home culture. We believe that once the children start going to a Dutch or International school here, they easily lose touch with their native language and culture unless these are actively fostered and the child has a consistent touchpoint with them. As a result, English or Dutch become their main language and they slowly begin to lose their ability to speak their mother tongue, which to many parents is a point of stress as it is not only a part of their child’s cultural identity, it is also the main way these children can stay in touch with their family back home.

We also consistently stress the benefits of raising bilingual, or multilingual children, but we decided to look into this further to explore actual research into this subject. In this blog post, we’ll share with you what we found.

Benefit #1: Multilinguals are better communicators

Research shows, that “Multilinguals”, as we’ll call children who grow up speaking more than one language, are better and more confident communicators, as they are more capable of overcoming communicational obstacles, are usually more open-minded and tolerant of other cultures. They are better at overcoming communicative anxiety and are good presenters, which is a highly valued life skill. Additionally, they are better at ignoring irrelevant information and deal better with ambiguity, due to their capability of forming sentences in several different understandable ways (Dewaele & Li Wei, 2013). Because multilinguals can view reality through several different cultural lenses, and often understand how language and culture and intertwined, hence they are often capable of expressing themselves more creatively, more thoroughly, and more comprehensive (Bialystok & Poarch, 2014).

raising multilingual kids

Benefit #2: Future social, economic, and cultural capital

Multilinguals often benefit from being able to communicate with others in different languages and are often the glue that holds many endeavours together. Speaking multiple languages well is a huge advantage in life, is highly valued in the world of business, academia, and diplomacy. Academically, knowing several languages opens up opportunities for the child to attend universities in those countries where that language is spoken. Socially, staying in touch with the mother tongue as well as the new languages they are learning allows them to keep up socially and stay connected to their cultural roots, opening up social opportunities in that regard. It might mean the difference between a low paying job and a high paying job, so ensuring that your child continues speaking their mother tongue well alongside other languages they are learning is a step in the right direction for setting them up for success in the future.

raising multilingual kids

Benefit #3: Increased cognitive performance

Research has repeatedly shown that multilinguals show cognitive gains compared with monolingual subjects. Multilinguals constantly have to switch between languages they know without thinking about it, which is believed to be one reason why they have more efficient and better-developed executive control systems. Two recent studies demonstrated cognitive strengths in populations with Turkish–Dutch children in the Netherlands, Spanish–English children in the United States (Carlson & Meltzoff, 2008) and Portuguese–Luxembourgish children in Luxembourg (Engel de Abreu et al., 2012) and observed that the bilingual children outperformed the monolinguals on measures of attentional control, level of vocabulary, and visuospatial and verbal working memory. This allows them to perform very well on tasks that require high-level thought, multi-tasking, and sustained attention, which translate to learning other skills besides language as well. Because of these enhanced cognitive abilities, multilinguals are more likely to perform better academically and live a higher-income life in the future.

raising multilingual kids

Benefit #4: Takes pressure and anxiety away from learning more languages in the future

Children that grow up speaking more than one language experience less trouble learning another language in the future. Multilingualism comes very naturally to these children, and they are often surrounded by other children who speak more than one language, making it a very normal thing for them. As a result, they won’t be frightened by the prospect of learning another language in the future, and are not afraid of making the verbal mistakes that naturally come along with learning a new language.

raising multilingual kids

Benefit #5: A more perceptive understanding of the world

Multilinguals have shown to be key observers of the world surrounding them. They tend to be very good at identifying misleading information, critical thinking, and are more skilled at correctly analyzing the sub-context of a situation and interpreting the social environment. This makes them very good at interacting with new cultures and being in unfamiliar situations. They tend to be very culturally aware and open-minded and accepting to cultural practices that are unfamiliar to them. As a result, they are likely to become tolerant citizens of the world.

raising multilingual children

All of the academic journals that we examined to gather these benefits indicated that, despite all of these benefits, being multilingual takes a lot of consistent work, and many of these benefits only apply to children who are advanced or fluent in multiple languages. This requires constant exposure to all languages the child knows, which can be difficult to balance. Hence, many children end up speaking one language better than the others, if their exposure to the languages they know is out of balance. Studies show that the relative and absolute amounts of exposure to each language predict children’s levels of vocabulary and grammatical development in each language (Oller & Eilers, 2002; Song, Tamis-LeMonda, Yoshikawa, KahanaKalman, & Wu, 2012), and hence, have an impact on the extent of which they can take advantage of the benefits of being multilingual.

This proves to us, that providing expat parents with a lingual and cultural connection for their kids in the form of a babysitter is extremely beneficial for the development of the child.