In the lasts months I´ve been buried in all types of research and studies regarding bilinguals because of all the material I needed for the book we´re writing. Not that I need to be any more convinced about raising my daughter bilingually, it´s just fascinating to read about studies that basically take pictures of the brain, called neuroimaging, to clearly map out how the brains of bilinguals are different from monolinguals. They say a picture tells a thousand words, and these do!
One such study was conducted last year at the University of Washington Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. We told you all about it and the findings in this post- Bilingual Babies: The Sooner, The Better.
In a nutshell, their conclusions suggest that the brain of a baby who has heard more than one language since birth (or even in-utero) remains more receptive to learning more languages for a longer period of time than a monolingual brain. That´s why we always say that the sooner you learn a second language, the easier it will be for you to learn more down the road.
What I also found fascinating about this particular study is that while conducting the Bilingual Baby Project, researchers also found and pinpointed three things that are very important for a baby´s overall bilingual comprehension skills; all of which are up to the parents to be aware of and execute.
3 Important Factors to Consider When Raising a Bilingual Child
1. The amount of exposure to each language. Babies and children need to hear the minority language being spoken to them 50-60% percent of their waking hours. It´s important that this exposure comes from human interaction, and not as much from media usage. Media is an important complement, but not something to rely on. Talk to your baby all the time from the day he/she is born. Talk, read, sing-out-loud, immerse him in an all-Spanish environment which could be a playgroup where all the moms are speaking Spanish.
2.The strategies parents use to raise a bilingual child. The two most used and most effective strategies to raise bilingual kids are One Parent One Language (OPOL) and Minority Language at Home (mL@H.) OPOL is when one of the parents speaks one language and the other parent another, all the time. For OPOL to be effective, the commitment from the parents has to be very clear and they must stick to their assigned language all the time. For a deeper insight into the OPOL method, check out these posts.
The mL@H method is the one Roxana and I use because we speak only Spanish at home with our husbands, all the time. English is pretty much not allowed among the three of us in my house. We´ve purposely created a home environment where the minority language can thrive and so my girl can associate Spanish to the comfort of family and home.
In short, what´s really essential is to have a strategy and commit to it. Flexibility is important because you have to adapt with your child´s needs and changing family conditions, but try to be as committed as possible because children do thrive on routine and consistency.
3. The parents’ desires to raise bilingual children. I love this one! Rarely do scientific linguistic research touch upon desire, at least to my knowledge, and I certainly believe it´s one of the most important factors. Both you and your spouse (if there is one) need to truly want and desire for this child to be bilingual. The reasons are usually personal and have to do with nostalgia, family ties, and a cultural bond, and these are the best! It´s that burning desire and want which will constantly drive you to have a method and stick to it; it will also motivate you to find a playgroup, the right dual immersion school, to travel, etc. I will go on a limb and say that desire is the driving force behind a bilingual child. Your desire comes first and that will feed into her´s.
What do you think? What is the one factor that has been the most effective in your bilingual journey, and/or the one you wished you had more of?