Friday, March 11, 2011

Beautifully Bilingual - Your Child Talking Guest Post

Lori of In Pursuit of Martha Points is one of my favorite funny lady bloggers, and she's one of the best peeps to follow on twitter, @marthapoints.

Lori is also a licensed, certified speech-language pathologist, with over 15 years experience, who has created a resource site, Your Child Talking,  dedicated to providing parents with information on children and language development.

How did Your Child Talking come to be? In Lori's words: 

"I wanted to develop a place where parents could subscribe to blog posts with information about language, speech, linguistic development and communication. I wanted to create a place where people could contact me to ask questions. I wanted to develop a service where I could consult with parents about their own children using easy-to-use web services like YouTube and Skype.
And after thinking about it for a while…here it is..."

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of guest posting at Lori's Speech and Language site, Your Child Talking, with this post on being raised bilingually. Lori follows up my post there, today, with her take on the linguistic and cognitive benefits of raising a child with more than one language.

I am honored to have Lori here today to discuss the blessings of raising children knowing more than one language.

Beautifully Bilingual--- by Lori, of Your Child Talking
There are many things I want to accomplish in this life. I want to write a book. I want to climb Half Dome. But there’s one more, and I’ve tried and tried and I just can’t get it to work.

I want to speak a second language.

I tried French. I tried Spanish. I tried sign language. And while I’d like to blame my failure to learn Spanish on the distraction created by my incredibly handsome Spanish professor, my blame game breaks down with French. I had a good high school teacher, a good (if somewhat austere) college instructor, and yet I can still only stumble through in asking to buy a ticket somewhere or find a bathroom (or a library).

I know that part of my impairments comes from a resistance to making mistakes, and you just can’t get anywhere with a language if you wait to talk until you know you’re going to get it right.

As a result of this repeated failure, I have an amazing respect for people who are bi-lingual. And that respect climbs for the multi-lingual.

We are hard-wired to use language. But we are hard-wired to learn language when we’re little. Up to around the age of 10 or 12. Then it is at its easiest and most natural. That’s why people who learn their other languages when they’re young escape the accent challenge. The amazing plasticity of a young brain allows it to gobble up motor patterns with ease and their speech sounds as natural as if they spoke only the one language all the time.

Here’s an interesting fact about children who grow up bilingual: they often acquire language more slowly than monolingual children. To the point where in places where there are large immigrant populations and a language other than English is learned at home, that school speech therapists spend a lot of time filtering out children who are referred to them for language problems when they’re truly just trying to acquire more than one language at time. This is the simplest type of delay, not a disability or a disorder. And since we know that the fix for this problem is time, we give it to them. A speech therapist cannot fix what is not broken. But if you think about it, this makes complete sense. The child is learning two sound systems, two vocabularies and two sets of grammatical rules. So since they’re doing twice the work, it is really only fair that it takes them a bit longer.

But here’s the GREAT part: people who were bi-lingual as children often exhibit far greater cognitive flexibility later in life. And by cognitive flexibility I mean the ability to make leaps in problem solving. I mean a rich appreciation of humor. I mean access to a broad array of language subtlety. I mean ability to appreciate multiple sides of problems. They often have better focus and attention. And any person who can speak more than one language has a part of the world open to them that may be closed to others. And lastly, there seems to be a cascade effect where learning two language makes a person that much more able to learn a third. It’s almost as if the act of learning two languages as a child wires in the language-learning ability far more permanently than learning only one does. Isn’t all that fantastic? So if you’ve been thinking about raising your children with a second language, or about bilingual immersion programs that some magnet or charter schools are offering these days for your kids, I urge you to do those things. It may slow the language process down initially, but that’s a small price to pay, and a temporary one at that. And your kidlet gets back the investment in spades.

I invite you to visit Your Child Talking, read, browse, email me or leave Lori comments.

A resource like Your Child Talking is an amazing, valuable asset for parents who have speech language questions, concerns, or a healthy curiosity about their child and age appropriate language development.
Click here to learn more about one-on-one services for you and your child.


  1. That's really interesting. My daughter grew up with english (scottish/canadian accents) spoken at home. Spanish at preschool. Catalan at age eight. She is fluent in all three. Now she is studying chemistry, pharmacology and a host of things I cannot even pronounce but she can't sing. And she has a broad American accent because she married an American of colombian descent.

  2. this is a great post and def highlights the merits of a bi lingual i said on your guest post i think this provides an advantage in the world we live in...

  3. I always thought it made complete sense that a bilingual child took longer to speak a lot. We only spoke English until my kids went to school, but Senior Kindergarten was 100 percent French for them, with a little English added in each year. I only did core French, not French immersion, and they speak circles around me -- and mock my husband's bad French mercilessly. I worship people who are multilingual.

  4. The most interesting thing I learned in linguistics is that the facility for learning another language is highest before puberty. And then I wonder at the ENGLISH ONLY insanity keeping languages from being taught in elementary school.

  5. Hey! Darned comment got eaten!

    Alexandra, thank you so much for hosting this piece. I think between the two of us we can convince a lot of people that this is the right way to go.'

    Much love to everyone who has read and commented.

  6. I love that you two have played a bit of Trading Houses this week! And I certainly love, LOVE what Lori has done with her new project.

    I too often wish I could speak a second language other than Pig Latin, but my old brain just won't accept another one. Lord knows, my junior high school Spanish teacher certainly tried. At least my son has picked up German quite easily so I feel that the generation-skipping smart gene has been picked up.

  7. i LOVED this post!!!

    And I, too, speak a bit of Pig Latin.

  8. I think it's a brilliant idea to raise children bilingual. I didn't realize it had carryover benefits later in life. That's wonderful news.

  9. Great post-I didn't know any of that. Thanks Lori, and thanks Empress.

  10. There are so many benefits to being bilingual, and I kind of wish kids were taught a second language from the start here much like they are in other countries.

  11. This was great, Lori! I love what you are doing! (BTW, I did climb Half Dome! Well, not really. Not the flat face part. It doesn't count then, does it? Oh, well)

  12. Lori gave much good advice on Martha Points, I will now carefully follow Chapter 7. Drink up

  13. What a great post! I remember learning in psych that it's best to expose kids to different languages as early as possible. So I started calling my brother Etienne and speaking French to him. Even as a toddler, he looked at me like I was crazy.

  14. Is there anything that Lori can't talk about with such amazing expertise? Love that you are sharing your knowledge Lori and love that you have her here, Alexandra.

  15. This is so encouraging for my children, even though they burn my soul with words like, "I'm more French than American anyway."



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