If you think children in bilingual homes process and learn language differently than children growing up in monolingual homes, you're right. Science Daily reports that children in bilingual homes have to devote attention to general associations between words and objects for a longer period of time than children in homes where only one language is spoken. Despite a widespread belief that learning two languages may lead to a language delay, being bilingual offers many benefits in childhood and beyond.
The Hanen Centre in Canada notes that in the United States 21 percent of school-age children speak a language other than English at home. Estimates are that there are more second-language speakers of English than native speakers worldwide, and there are as many bilingual children as there are monolingual children in the world.
Bilingualism Does Not Cause Delays
Because they are dedicating more time to general associations, children in bilingual households take longer to distinguish between similar sounds. Monolingual children tend to be able to sort out speech sounds in their native language by age 17 months, while it takes bilingual children until 20 months. It may take a few months longer for your bilingual child to sort out those similar sound patterns; however, the website MultiLingual Living states that bilingual children start talking within the same time frame as monolingual children. In addition, the Center for Applied Linguistics verifies that research shows that monolingual and bilingual children meet major language developmental milestones at similar times.
Benefits of Bilingualism
The New York Times reports that there are benefits to bilingualism, in addition to knowing two languages. Being bilingual improves the brain's executive function. The brain's executive function directs the attention processes used for planning, solving problems and other mentally demanding tasks, such as remembering a sequence of directions. Bilingualism has even been linked in older age to a later onset of dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Learning two languages as a child increases the ability to learn other languages later as well. Bilingual children score higher on verbal standardized tests, and being bilingual helps children's creativity, math skills and problem-solving skills, according to Ecole Bilingue. Being bilingual gives your child a head start in the competitive world, both in college and later in his career.
If you want your child to be bilingual, the American Speech Language Hearing Association recommends using both languages from the start and using both languages in everyday situations. Omniglot identifies other strategies to help boost the second language, including joining a playgroup with other children who speak the second language, using books and music in the second language and finding a sitter who speaks the second language. A visit to a country where the language is spoken will provide the child with days of total immersion in the language and culture. Having friends and relatives visit and speak the language to your child will also prove helpful.