So many people I know speak English-only, yet there are tremendous benefits of a second language – or two equal native languages.
I can hardly call myself bilingual, but I do have conversational skills in two languages other than English: Spanish and American Sign Language. If I’d spent more time immersed in an environment where one of those languages was consistently spoken, or if someone in my family were fluent in one of those languages, I’d be more proficient for sure. My children were exposed to sign language and Spanish early on, and thrived – ASL really helped my kids understand synonyms, new Spanish vocabulary, aided in their reading skill development and so much more. But neither language was part of our family culture or need, and they (sadly!) chose not to continue learning other than required classes in school.
So I encourage you to give your children that opportunity if you can, to expose them to every language you speak. If your other language is part of your family culture, it can be essential that your child learns to speak and understand it, so he or she can grow up able to communicate with family members near and far. If you live in an English speaking community, your child will learn English from friends, neighbors, teachers and peers – so you could decide stick primarily to your “other” language at home.
When one parent consistently speaks English and the other parent consistently speaks Spanish (or Japanese or Hebrew or whatever language he/she speaks), that can be very helpful for bilingual development. AND WHEN BOTH PARENTS INCLUDE SIGN LANGUAGE AS THEY SPEAK, THAT CAN BE A TREMENDOUS ASSET – it helps to BRIDGE THE GAP between the two spoken languages. Baby sees the sign for milk when she hears “milk” and when she hears “leche.” She begins to understand that the two different sounds mean the same thing. She also learns that she can use that sign for milk to communicate with both parents, and soon enough she’ll use the different spoken words correctly with each parent. It’s a wonderful process.
Sign language can become your second or third language at home – jump start communication, stimulate brain development, set the foundation for literacy and later second language learning, and bridge the gap between two languages spoken in your family – all while fostering family bonds and creating connections with people from other cultures. Rather than becoming confusing, it’s a true asset.