The cross : How does a child become bilingual?
Ranka Bijeljac-Babic: A child becomes bilingual because he is imbued with two languages in his daily environment. There are several scenarios: parents can speak the same language or each speak a different language. The child can learn one language at home and another outside. However, not all children will become bilingual. It is a slow process subject to two conditions: on the one hand, the parents’ investment in the transmission of the mother tongue; on the other hand, the opening up of society to multilingualism.
→ READ. The chance to be bilingual
What are the repercussions on its development?
RB-B: By growing up in a bilingual environment, by speaking one language at home and another outside, the child finds it even easier to acquire a third or even a fourth language. He develops his cognitive capacities more than the monolingual individual. Switching from one language to another requires attention, a certain mental flexibility to be able to adapt. Bilinguals are forced to mobilize certain mental processes more effectively throughout their lives, which will often protect them from the onset of cognitive impairment.
Each language describes the world differently, widens the horizon. The child thus has the advantage of having access to two cultures, two visions of the world, which often leads to more tolerance and interest in different cultures. In rare cases, however, bilingualism can be a problem. When the child, otherwise having no neurological difficulties, shows selective mutism. For example, he speaks at home in the family language but does not speak at school. We must then ask ourselves: does it have a place to speak? is he listened to? Are parents in linguistic insecurity? Support can unblock the situation.
Is the principle, “one parent, one language” still relevant?
RB-B: This is the ideal principle, but it is difficult to maintain. How can we expect the child to always answer in the language of each parent? Better to be flexible, create more opportunities to speak or hear the language you want to convey. You can bathe by speaking in one language, have a meal at the table in another. The important thing is to avoid mixing the languages too much. It is better not to have a hard rule. And make sure it’s consistent for the child. If the latter seems to abandon the family language, the parents, often disappointed, give up transmitting their language (s). But it is a transitory moment. They should not be discouraged. The charge is difficult to maintain in the long run, but it is worth it. Through language, the parent transmits his emotions, his culture, his whole person.