Multilingual Upbringing


Multilingual Upbringing

You are most certainly sure that you want your child to grow up being able to speak more than one language; but at the same time, you are probably not quite so sure where to begin. Well, the bottom line is that it requires a huge commitment on the parents’ part. If this doesn’t scare you away, you can start here to know more.
Best of all, multilingual children acquire a deeper appreciation and understanding of various cultures due to the increased sense of cultural awareness that comes with learning another language. Let’s begin.

The Benefits

Although the process is not easy, your child will reap the many benefits that come with learning multiple languages. What are some benefits of being multilingual other than being able to read/write in multiple languages? Well, we thought you may be wondering that, and prepared the following for your reference. So read on.

yesMultilingualism Enhances a Child’s Working Memory

A research study conducted by a university’s Department of Experimental Psychology found that multilingual children performed better than monolingual children in increasingly difficult working memory tasks. Working memory is comprised of the brain structures that store and process information over short periods of time.

yesMultilingual Children Develop Strong Cognitive Abilities

According to Delia Lloyd’s article “5 Facts about Bilingualism,” she states that learning and understanding two or more languages helps multilingual children handle multi-tasking and solve logic problems at a faster rate than monolingual children.

yesMultilingual Children Develop Better Academic, Analytical, and Social Skills than Monolingual Children

According to Francois Thibaut, CEO of The Language Workshop for Children, children who learn multiple languages perform better in school and are more open to diversity. These children also out-score their monolingual peers in the verbal and problem solving math sections of standardized tests. They also develop superior reading and writing skills.

yesMultilingual Children are often Multicultural

Multilingual children are inherently multicultural because while learning a different language, they also learn and adopt the attitudes, behaviors, and values of the culture that is associated with the other language. They also blend aspects of the other culture with their own primary culture.

yesJob Prospects are Multiplied for People who Know More Than One Language

With increased globalization, companies prefer to hire those who speak more than one language because they can connect with others on a global scale and assist in the global expansion of the company.

Common Myths

Multilingual upbringing is not harmful to the child’s development. They are ready if you are. As you researched multilingual upbringing, you also may have come across some disadvantages. Worry not as many of those concerns are outdated or simply wrong. Explained here are some common myths about raising multilingual children. This section will help alleviate your fears, and also provide you with correct information.


Your Child will be Confused by Learning More Than one Language, and this will Prevent them from Properly Learning either Language

This is the most prevalent myth in regards to children and multilingualism. Many parents and even some pediatricians believe that if two or more languages are introduced into the child’s environment, then they will become confused and unable to differentiate the languages from one another. This myth is born from old, outdated, and poorly designed research that concluded early exposure to more than one language will put the children at a disadvantage compared to their monolingual peers. In actuality, there is no primary research that proves that exposing children to multiple languages puts them at a disadvantage. This myth is largely perpetuated by monolingual countries. There are many countries where multilingualism is the norm, such as Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, and many others. Some children may find it easier to pick up multiple languages at once, while every child has the capability to learn multiple languages. With constant support, continuous exposure, and consistent stimulation, your child will have no issues in learning multiple languages properly.


Raising a Child to be Multilingual will Lead to Speech Delays

Another prevalent myth regarding multilingualism is the belief that exposing children to multiple languages at once will lead to speech delays. However, there is no evidence to support this belief. In fact, Colin Baker, a researcher in Childhood Bilingualism, disproves this myth in his book, “The Care and Education of Young Bilinguals: An Introduction for Professionals.” In the book, he writes, “raising children bilingually neither increases nor reduces the chance of language disorder or delay.” This also applies to children who are exposed to more than two languages. Furthermore, a 2006 report from the Center for Applied Linguistics states, “Although, many parents believe that bilingualism results in language delay, research suggests that monolingual and bilingual children meet major language developmental milestones at similar times.” It is known that the vocabulary size of each language that children are exposed to may be smaller than that of monolingual peers; however, when all the words are combined from multiple languages, the size of a multilingual child’s vocabulary is often greater than that of their monolingual counterparts.


Your Child will Mix the Languages

It is true that your child will mix the languages, but this is harmless and temporary. Some researchers even state that this is rather normal for children learning multiple languages and “code mixing” has been coined to describe this. As your child increases their vocabulary in each language, this mixing will automatically disappear. The mixing occurs because the child is looking for an alternative way to express themselves. For monolingual children, for instance, if they can’t express themselves with the right words, they will substitute verbal language with finger-pointing or other gestures. For multilingual children, on the other hand, if they do not know the right words to say something in one language, then they will “borrow” it from their other languages. Studies have shown that by the age of five, multilingual children will develop their skills in each language enough so that this “borrowing,” which is often misinterpreted as language confusion, will disappear.


It will be Easy for your Child to Pick up Multiple Languages

Some people believe that it is easy for young children to learn multiple languages with only a limited amount of stimulation. For instance, some parents believe that enrolling their children in a target language class that meets once a week or having them watch TV in the language is enough exposure to fully understand that language. However, this is far from the truth. It takes a great deal of effort to successfully raise your child as multilingual. According to Fred Genesee, a professor of psycholinguistics at McGill University in Montreal, children need to be exposed to a new language for at least 30% of their waking hours to become fluent. According to Genesee, less than the stated amount of exposure may allow the child to comprehend but not achieve fluency. Learning a second language is simple for children relative to adults, but it won’t happen automatically.

Do’s and Dont’s

Deepen your knowledge and understand your role as a parent. Your child’s infancy is the best time to start learning multiple languages because, during this period, their brains are still learning how to understand the concept of language. This section provides tips and assistance on what to do and what not to do in introducing your child to multiple languages.

Here are some do’s:

DO! Agree on Multilingualism

Establishing a parental agreement on raising a multilingual child is the key component to success. However, there are cases where one spouse wants to introduce multiple languages to their child and the other does not. This can be attributed to one spouse not wanting to feel left out because they are monolingual or the various concerns that come with raising a child as multilingual. Some of the common myths surrounding multilingualism have been addressed on this site, but it is important to note that they are outdated and wrong. In order to come to an agreement, it is important to discuss and compromise on the decision.

DO! Expose Your Child to Multiple Languages

It is important to note that parents don’t actually “teach” their children how to speak. Language development occurs naturally in infants. As a parent, you can assist the process through constant exposure to the selected languages. If children are exposed to different languages in a variety of settings with many people, then they will feel the need to learn the chosen languages in order to communicate. Remember that multiple types of exposure is needed, letting them watch TV in another language is certainly not enough.

DO! Decide on a Plan

It is important that, as parents, you agree on who will speak what language and when, and stick to it. There are two common language systems: One Person One Language and Minority Language at Home. The former involves one parent speaking to the child in one language while another parent speaks another language. In the latter case, the whole family speaks the minority language at home, and the primary or the community language is used with everyone else. If you are not bilingual parents or a family who has moved to a foreign country, you can provide an outside source such as an immersion program alternatively.

DO! Prepare Relevant Materials

Acquiring books, movies, music, and toys in the selected languages makes learning fun and less difficult. Household items are also useful because they provide an everyday example of the language for your child. In addition to using these items, it is also beneficial to enroll your child in a multilingual daycare and arrange multilingual playdates with other families.

DO! Remain Patient

The most important thing to remember is to remain patient with your child throughout this process. Raising a multilingual child is similar to monolingual childrearing because they both require long term commitment and patience. There will be ups and downs, but the important thing is to remain flexible and supportive of your child. Do not worry if your child does pick up multiple languages as fast as their peers. Rather, focus on your child’s successes and praise your child for what they can do.

And here are some dont’s:

DON’T! Wait

The first three years of your child’s life is when their brain is working very hard to set up the neural pathways that mediate language. Naturally, the earlier you introduce your child to multiple languages, the higher the chances are for success. By the teen years, your child’s special ability to learn languages will have drastically diminished.

DON’T! Criticize

As parents, you should almost never criticize your child’s language use and development. At times, it may seem tempting to make a negative comment about your child’s pronunciation and use of a word. If you feel strongly about correcting the way your child says something, repeat what they said in the correct form. However, correct only sporadically when you feel correction is necessary. Even when you do, try correcting by the use of questions such as, “did you really mean to say…?” This will allow them to correct themselves.

DON’T! Compare

Comparing your child’s progress to siblings and other children outside of your home is not helpful to multilingual development. Your role as a parent is to encourage your child and build up their confidence in regards to language usage, not to knock them down. If you are truly concerned with your child’s progress, it is best to go and see a specialist rather than to pass your own judgment. Every child is different, so there is no need to worry if your child’s language skills develop at a slower rate than others.

DON’T! Expect perfection

Ideally, your children will have a perfect command of every language that you expose them to. However, in reality, fluency varies from child to child, even among siblings. If your child does not speak as fluently as you would like, do not get frustrated and try to view things positively. For instance, if you are a family who has moved to a different country, can your child communicate with family members in the minority language, while still being able to use their primary language at school? If so, there’s nothing to be too concerned about because there is always time to improve their grammar and pronunciation.

DON’T! Stop communicating

Successfully raising a multilingual child requires constant communication to encourage fluency in multiple languages. This requires a large degree of commitment. Understandably, some parents are not able to stick to their plan and end up dropping the target language. If time is a factor, you may have to seek out alternative sources of linguistic enhancement such as an immersion program.

DON’T! Quit

Raising your child as multilingual requires hard work, commitment, and constant exposure. Sometimes it may feel as though nothing is being accomplished and that your child is not learning. However, during these times of doubt, it is important to remember why you decided to introduce your child to multiple languages in the first place. Think about the many benefits that come with being a multilingual. Contact other parents that are raising their child as multilingual for support ? they would love to help encourage you to continue. Whatever you decide to do, do not quit on your child.


It has been estimated that alomost 50% of the world’s population is at least bilingual and the number is growing. For example, 50% of Europe’s population is multilingual. In Canada, 35% of the population knows two or more languages while in America, it is 25%. There are multilingual people living on every continent of the world. Here are some stats and facts about language throughout the world.


  • There are 24 official languages that are recognized in the European Union, and countless indigenous and minority languages that are recognized as co-official languages.
  • More than 80% of primary school students in Europe study a foreign language.
  • Just over half (51.2%) of secondary students study two or more foreign languages.
  • In Europe, English is the most studied foreign language followed by French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Russian respectively.
  • According to the Eurostat publications, multilingualism is promoted in Europe because it is essential in ensuring that “European citizens can move, work, and learn freely” throughout Europe. Multilingualism is also necessary to eliminate language barriers and encourage participation in society.


  • 12% of the population speaks a language other than English or French at home.
  • 31% of Toronto’s population speaks a language other than English or French at home.
  • Canadians who speak both French and English have a median income that is approximately 10% higher than those who speak only English, and approximately 40% higher than those who speak only French.

United States

  • In the United States, 21% of children between the ages 5-17 speak a language other than English at home (this number is predicted to progressively increase over the next few years).
  • In 2007, the American Community Survey found that about 55 million people in America spoke a language other than English at home.
  • In New York and several states in the West and Southwest, 23% of the states’ population over the age of 4 speaks a language other than English.
  • In California, approximately 50% of all students speak a language other than English as their primary or only language (This figure is expected to reach 70% by 2030).
  • Cities with the most bilinguals are New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.


  • Japan is increasingly becoming a multi-cultural and multilingual society due to the influx of immigrants since the late 1980s.
  • An estimated 1 in 10 Japanese people study the English language.


  • The amounts of people who speak English as a second language outnumber those who are Native English speakers.
  • There are just as many bilingual children as there are monolingual counterparts.
  • In one study, Alzheimer’s takes twice as long to develop among bilingual individuals than it does among monolinguals. The average age for the first signs of Alzheimer’s to appear is 71 for monolingual adults and 75 for those who are bilingual.

These statistics illustrate that half of the world is already multilingual and the remaining half is also increasingly becoming multilingual. Economics has been an influential factor in the global spread of languages throughout history. In the past, Greek, Latin, and French spread all over the world because the countries that spoke these languages had dominant economies and cultural exports. Today, English is the most studied foreign language because of the dominant position of the U.S. economy and the popularity of its cultural exports.

Tips For Monolingual Parents

If you are a monolingual parent who wants to raise your child as multilingual, do not be discouraged. The most common situations for raising children as bilingual are 1) Each parent is a native speaker of a different language or 2) the parents speak the same language, but live in a community where people speak a different language. For a monolingual family who live in a community where people also speak the same language, raising a multilingual child is more of a challenge. This section provides tips and advice for monolingual parents who are brave enough to take on such a challenge. It is important to remember that immersion and exposure are important components of successfully raising your child as multilingual. As for the parents’ part, you have already passed the first test, which is deciding on whether or not to raise your child as multilingual.

TIP #1

Maximize the Exposure of the Language to Your Child

The author of “Raising a Bilingual Child,” Dr. Barbara Zurer Pearson, suggests that exposure to a foreign language should equal to “about 50% of a child’s waking time.” It is therefore preferable to enroll your child in a language immersion program/school or hire an au pair/nanny who speaks the desired language. It would also be beneficial to organize a play date or play groups where your child will be encouraged to primarily speak the target language.

TIP #2

Learn the Language

It is strongly recommended that you as parents learn the language that you want your child to learn. It is not necessary, but it would be extremely helpful. Not only will you learn a new language, but you will also increase your child’s motivation by learning the language along with them which allows this to be used as a bonding experience. You can go to your local library to find books, DVDs, and computer programs to help you learn the language. Also, you can search online and find language programs; watch movies/TV programs in the desired language; and, if you can, travel to a country that primarily speaks the language.

TIP #3

Speak the Language

It is imperative that you speak to your child in the desired language. Do not worry if you cannot speak it perfectly; or have an accent; or if you make grammatical mistakes. A researcher, Dr. Pearson, believes that as long as you are not the only target language source for your child, your child is not likely to copy your mistakes or accent. Soon enough your child will even be able to correct your errors.

TIP #4

Create an Environment that Encourages & Motivates Language Learning

Be supportive in your child’s journey of becoming multilingual. Do not provide negative feedback or make fun of them. Negativity will do nothing but discourage and demotivate them from learning the language. Instead, encourage them and provide helpful positive feedback, even when they make a mistake. Positive feedback goes a long way with children and it will encourage them to stick with the foreign language(s) that you introduce them to. You can help encourage your child by making sure that your child has plenty of opportunities to speak the language(s) and look for fun ways to force them to speak the language. It is also important that you explain to your child your decision to raise them as bilingual. Share your enthusiasm and describe the many benefits that come with being multilingual. This will illustrate how important it is to you which will encourage your child to learn the language properly.

If you are a monolingual parent who wants to raise your child as multilingual, do not be discouraged. As stated previously, you have already passed the hardest part, which is making the decision to raise your child as multilingual. As a monolingual parent, you will embark on this language journey along with your child and instill in them a skill that can never be taken away. As Dr. Pearson states, “Remember, as a language model for your child, you are not only providing new words and grammar; but by speaking another language with them, you are creating an environment where the language is welcome all the time. That gives the child more time to practice and consolidate what they are learning. Also you are demonstrating that this is a language worth learning. This adds to their motivation to learn the language. Those are very big gifts you are giving your child.” Just remember that this journey will take hard work and consistent dedication to be successful.