Five reasons to raise your child to be bilingual

Meet the Dubai toddler who speaks three languages

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Three-year-old Zein already speaks fluent English, Greek and Arabic and her mother, Joanna Bakalou, hopes she can learn more languages as she grows up.

Ms Bakalou, a Greek sales manager in Dubai, said her daughter picked up the language from her and Arabic from her husband, who is from Iraq. She has also learnt some French words from friends.

“She speaks Greek with me and Arabic with her father. We have a nanny at home with whom she speaks in English. She also goes to nursery,” Ms Bakalou said.

“I want to teach her more languages. I see that she can easily catch new words and when she is with my family she knows they are from Greece and speaks with them in Greek.

“When she is with her friends, she speaks some French words.

“I don’t think we should put more pressure, because speaking three languages fluently is more than enough.

The more languages the pupils speak, the more they have developed the communication skills in the way they present and write information
David Bauza of Jumeira Baccalaureate School in Dubai

“She is exposed to different environments and is very confident. She has become more sociable as she can interact easily due to our different backgrounds.”

Ms Bakalou said everything starts at home and encourages her friends to speak with their children in their native tongues.

For ages, parents have been debating whether children should be exposed to one language, two or several.

Speaking more than one language early in life has many advantages. Here are some of the most important:

1. Learning two languages is exercise for the brain

Speaking more than one language is exercise for the brain because it learns to switch from one to the other.

Research supports this theory of “linguistic exercising".

Scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle found that children from Spanish-American families have an unusually active prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain located at the front, which is responsible for verbal fluency and adaptation to change.

Noah Bauza, 15, a pupil at Jumeira Baccalaureate School, speaks French, Spanish and English, all of which he learnt before he turned 4.

“When I hear something in Spanish, I usually translate it to French or English. It does exercise the brain quite a bit,” he said.

2. Improved cognitive abilities

Carolyn Yaffe, a psychotherapist at Camali Clinic in Dubai, said bilingual people are good at problem solving and critical thinking, and are creative and can easily adapt.

Psycholinguists from the University of Cyprus and scientists from Anglia Ruskin University in England, have shown that bilingualism has a positive effect on the ability to assess information and ignore what is not relevant.

Experts observed that bilingual children are able to process information critically. They are better at filtering out distractions. As bilingual children grow up, they become used to receiving and processing data from two sources and get better at dealing with huge amounts of information.

Carolyn is a Clinical Social Worker and CBT therapist at Camali Clinic.

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)

Reporter: Shireena Al Nowais
Section: Shorthand NA

David Bauza, assistant head of teaching and learning at Jumeira Baccalaureate School in Dubai, said: “The more languages the pupils speak, the more they have developed the communication skills in the way they present and write information.”

He said this reflected in their academic results, particularly in language-heavy subjects, such as history, geography, or even biology, which tended to be slightly better.

“Potentially, this is due to their enhancement of cognitive abilities,” Mr Bauza said.

“They are used to moving from one language to the other and have this ability to switch very quickly, switching languages like switching ways of thinking.”

3. Being bilingual boosts creativity

Studies have found that bilingualism has a positive effect on creativity and people who speak more than one language outperform monolinguals in creative tasks.

Ms Yaffe of Camali Clinic said that speaking more than one language boosted creativity as children were exposed to books, styles of writing and shows in two languages.

Being bilingual also deepened their understanding of cultures.

Research shows that bilinguals tend to notice subtleties and nuances that are difficult for monolinguals. This can be seen particularly in the field of music. With their ability to distinguish sounds and melodies, bilinguals are particularly gifted in this area.

4. Self confidence gets a boost

Linnea Hager, a Grade 10 Swedish pupil at Jumeira Baccalaureate School, speaks Swedish, German and English fluently.

“I think it makes me more confident. Speaking different languages gives you a good range of words and you can understand if people ask you something,” Linnea said.

“The fact that I have a good range of vocabulary and can use it in many different ways can make me more critical and creative in many different ways.

“I'm from Sweden but my dad is from Austria. So I learnt how to talk in German at a young age with my cousins and with my family in Austria. I learnt English at school.”

5. Speaking two languages helps children adapt better

Ms Yaffe said that children who are exposed to two or three languages learnt to adapt better to changes in the environment.

“They learn more about other cultures through language. It really helps them develop tolerance, compassion, empathy. It also provides an educational advantage,” she said.

Mr Bauza said that in his experience pupils who switched between different languages in their daily life and had different accents were able to learn new languages faster.

“They have a higher capacity to learn other languages, and in particular, to get used to the accents, which is a very creative skill that not everybody has,” he said.

For Noah, being multilingual has helped him immensely in communication.

“Speaking Spanish is a big advantage when learning Arabic as these are two really close languages. So when the teacher says something I might not understand, I try comparing it to Spanish and sometimes it works,” he said.

Updated: March 26, 2022, 6:05 PM