Educating children bilingual – “Mamá, nos vemos en el Hbf”

Educating children bilingual – “Mamá, nos vemos en el Hbf”

Si no fuera por mi mamá no hablaría español y no sería capaz de escribir este… Oh wrong language, but this mishap was of course planned, because now I have your attention 😉

Unconsciously, my mom has raised me to a person who speaks, thinks, counts, and even dreams in two languages. Not everything at the same time and mostly not mixed, but what should I say? If I do not have the words in one language, the other language fills the gaps.

In this blog, I would like to talk about bilingualism and the advantages and disadvantages and why I am so grateful to my mom on Mother’s Day.

Bilingualism as an opportunity

If you have the chance to teach your child two mother tongues, you should use them and thus lay the foundation stone early on to make your child a global player. Because a foreign language is learned in the blink of an eye from a young age!
Here’s a story of Henry and Henriette, Henry’s pregnant wife:

Henry believes he’s full English Pro. Just translate a text into English – no problem. Oh, there comes Henriette. “Man,” says Henry, “should we not teach Little Henry English? That’s a snap!” It’s not that easy, dear Henry. Because at some point you will reach your linguistic limits. But how is it then?

That's how it works

Let’s say Henriette is a Peruvian. Then she could speak Spanish with Little Henry and Henry could speak German. Because multilingual education in binational families has some advantages for everyone:

  • Little Henry will learn other foreign languages more easily later on.
  • His creativity and communicative competence are promoted.
  • It is easier to switch between two different situations.
  • Henriette and Henry can communicate their origin and national identity to the child.
  • The communication between Henry/-iette and Little Henry is more natural when everyone speaks in their native language.

Real drawbacks for Little Henry do not have multilingual education. It only becomes difficult if he feels pressured. If Henry stands in front of him with his index finger raised, Little Henry gets stress and later learning problems. Even if Henry does not understand Spanish at all, this is unfavorable – Little Henry would take advantage of the situation and play his parents off against each other.

But how?

The most successful method for bilingual language acquisition is the “one person – one language” method. Henry consistently speaks German and Henriette Spanish with Little Henry. However, Henry and Henriette can communicate with each other in one language without confusing Little Henry.

But Henry should not put himself with the duden before Little Henry. The best way to do this is to integrate the two languages naturally into everyday life. Along the way, Little Henry learns the easiest.

In addition, Henry and Henriette could bring in a Spanish-speaking au pair girl or put Little Henry in a binational daycare center and thus promote multilingual education through external influences in both languages. Then Spanish is not limited to home.

Little Henry is already there and no baby anymore?

No problem: The method does not necessarily have to be followed from baby age. Up to the age of ten, the chances of bilingual education are good, although it is of course more difficult later than at an age when Little Henry begins to speak.

Ambient and non-ambient language

Spanish, by the way, is the non-ambient language for Henry and Henriette – that is, the language that is not the language of the country in which the family lives. This language is more difficult to “enforce” than the surrounding language, because Little Henry has much more to do with German than with Spanish outside his own home.

It may even be a good thing that Henriette speaks Spanish with Little Henry very consistently at the beginning, but later he increasingly switches to German. For example, because they only have German-speaking friends, watch German films in the cinema, do not read Spanish books or just do not go on holiday very often to a Spanish-speaking country.

But beware, Henriette: It is not worth getting inconsistent here! Firstly, Little Henry then fails to make important cultural influences of his Hispanic half, and secondly, you will quickly feel depressed and disappointed by yourself.

How and when does Little Henry actually learn a language?

Little Henry begins to speak at about one to two years old. But of course he cannot do it just that way. Language acquisition is a continuous learning process, which is mainly due to the following processes:

  • Imitation and conditioning: The more often Little Henry hears something, the faster he remembers it.
  • Innate mechanism: Language acquisition is standard acquisition. Little Henry is an innate language-specific ability to surround with the rules of language. According to the motto: He does not know where he knows that, but it is so.
  • Interaction: If a word is used repeatedly in the same situation and with the same gestures, Little Henry will remember it.
  • Cognitive processes:
    Language is linked to the experience of the environment with all the senses. Through them, notions of objects are acquired, further refined, internalized, and finally symbolized by a word. For example, Little Henry thinks: “The thing there is soft. Mom says it’s a plush toy. So plush animals are soft.”
  • Speech-stimulating environment:
    Where there is not much spoken, there is no language acquisition. Without affection, praise and communication, Klein-Henry will not learn any language. Actually logical!

Mamá, nos vemos en el Hbf!

Today, about 43% of the little Henrys, Henrikes and Henriettes grow up in multiple languages – globalization makes it possible. Henry and Henriette do not have to fear a language confusion or delay in the development of Little Henry. When children grow up with two languages, they learn them without conscious effort. The brain is designed for this. And even the mixing of languages is no reason to worry – this only happens because just one word is more present in the other language, usually without Little Henry consciously noticing it.

If you need support on other topics from the world of languages, we are always there for you. Whether machine translation, terminology management, professional translation software or language quality assurance, we help you to optimize your language processes. Just contact us.

Cover image was created using Dall-E 2 .

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