top of page

10 good reasons for raising a child with more than one language

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

1. The first reason for raising a child with more than one language is a pretty simple one: if you can, why would you not? If the parents speak different languages, it makes perfect sense to contribute to the future linguistic capital of their child. Of course, this should not be taken to extremes: if the parents share 10 languages, it would make little sense for them to try and use all 10 languages in everyday interactions with their child.

2. Your child will benefit from early multilingualism. For one, because it will not cost them any conscious effort and the results will be really good. Growing up with several languages allows a child to acquire them implicitly without any laborious effort, and they are typically mastered at a very high level. In fact, the child’s skillfulness will depend on the amount of input they receive. Regular input is crucial to keep the language system developing. Just imagine how much money parents will save on language tutors. There are solid social, psychological and cognitive advantages to being multilingual, which have been documented in the past research. Multilinguals are better and more confident communicators and they are able to overcome obstacles in communication. They can also deal better with ambiguity, they tend to have more cultural empathy and are more open-minded. Multilinguals have also been found to be better at ignoring irrelevant information, which has been linked to the need to inhibit the languages not in use – something monolinguals do not have to do. Multilinguals have been found to be more creative, possibly because they can view reality through different lenses, and are less bound by the values and constraints of a single language and cultures.

Finally, multilingual children have also been found to have fewer essentialist beliefs. In other words, they are more likely to assume that a duck that was brought up by dogs will bark.

3. Linguistic capital is also cultural capital. Knowing extra languages could be considered an asset in the child’s piggy bank. The child will quickly understand that linguistic rules differ between languages and the cultural values linked to them. If a language has a more elaborate system of honorifics compared to language that the child is currently acquiring, they will realise that the subtleties in how you address people in one language are richer, and possibly considered more important than in another.

4. Understanding that languages differ, and that they reflect different cultures is a powerful trigger for reflection on how languages and cultures function. Having two or more systems allows a child to spontaneously compare how things are expressed in different languages, and what kind of things can be expressed. Indeed, some things may be expressed more easily in some languages, while other expressions may be considered inappropriate in another language. The ability to compare from an early age transforms the child into a young linguist and anthropologist.

5. Picking up languages at home does not just increase linguistic and cultural capital, it boosts social capital, and future economic capital as well. The ability to communicate with more people in their native language is a huge advantage, highly valued in the business world, in academia, in diplomacy and in the spy business. Ultimately, it may be the difference between a lower paid job and a much better paid one, and many more opportunities when searching for a (new) job.

6. More languages are more fun. Only multilingual families can enjoy making puns using their different languages. It is doubly funny when outsiders who don’t share the same language combination do not get it. Multilingual jokes become a signal of exclusive group membership.

7. Learning multiple languages early at home takes the pressure off foreign language learning later. From birth, multilingual children find their multilingualism the most normal thing in the world. In other words, they will not be frightened by the prospect of having to learn an extra language in school. In fact, as born ‘linguists’ they will almost certainly be better at learning new languages compared to their monolingual peers, and they are likely to outperform monolingual children.

8. Multilinguals are better communicators and more confident. Multilinguals suffer less from communicative anxiety, probably because they know that if they cannot say something in one language, they can always switch to another, or explain it with gestures if necessary. They are less likely to feel frustrated about a communication obstacle, and will see it more as an interesting challenge.

9. Multilingual children will have no difficulty in communicating with their grandparents, family members or friends who speak different languages. This means that they will be able to maintain their linguistic and cultural roots, and will be able to expand their social network.

10. Multilingual children can go and study in multiple schools and universities when the time comes, and people will be impressed by their multilingualism.

Source: Julia Festman, Gregory J. Poarch and Jean-Marc Dewaele, “Raising Multilingual Children” (2017)



bottom of page