Cognitive advantages of being bilingual

Research has found several advantages of being bilingual beyond the obvious one of being able to communicate in more than one language.

However, many parents and grandparents worry about possible negative effects, as the following question illustrates:

I am concerned with the speech development of my 20 month old grandson. Although he understands very well, he is not actually talking. His daily caretaker speeks to him in Polish, and he shows signs of understanding this language. My question is: Is speaking to this child in two different languages delaying his talking in either of the languages?

Robert's response:

It is not uncommon for children growing up in a multilingual setting to begin talking later than their monolingual peers. In fact, this is so common that I don't consider it a speech delay--I consider it normal development for bilingual children.

Consider this analogy: if you are building two houses, it will probably take you longer than if you are building just one. This is not necessarily a bad thing--you won't be homeless forever, and when you're done you'll have two houses instead of just one. The point of building a house is not to move in as quickly as possible, but to provide a safe and comfortable home for years (generations, perhaps!) to come.

Something a bilingual beginning will not do is cause a speech or language disorder. If your grandson does not have a communication disorder, he will not develop one by hearing two languages. If he does have a disorder, he would have had it even if he were exposed only to English.

For a more detailed account of the difference between a delay and a disorder, please click here .

Growing up bilingual can be a tremendous blessing. In addition to the obvious benefit (i.e., the ability to speak and understand more than one language), recent research has revealed a number of cognitive advantages to bilingualism. Bilingual children have been shown to have:

1. better metalinguistic awareness (ability to identify and describe characteristics and features of language);

2. better classification skills;

3. better concept formation;

4. better analogical reasoning;

5. better visual-spatial skills;

6. better storytelling skills;

7. better semantic development.

If the price your grandson pays for all these advantages of being bilingual is that his first words come a few months later, I'd say it's still a pretty good deal!

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