Should Bilingual Children Learn English First?

An idea I come across fairly often is the thought that children need to learn English before learning another language.  The basic assumption here is that children cannot learn two languages at once.  This is just not true.  Sixty-six percent of children, over 2/3rds of the world, grow up bilingual or trilingual.  It's actually the norm for a majority.  Children can learn to do so much.  They can learn to draw, do gymnastics, talk, and use the potty (hopefully :)).  Would we think that a child needs to hold off learning to draw because right now we're working on potty-training?  Should we have them stop jumping, because we want them to learn to run better first?  None of that makes sense and language is the same. Just as learning to jump will support the gross motor skills involved in running, learning a second or third language will support the linguistic development of the first.

It's also important that children are taught a new language the same way they learned their first one.  We wouldn't teach a child to jump by showing them how to run.  The same way we don't want to teach them Spanish, for example, by explaining it to them in English.  It's best to avoid any translation for  young children as they simply don't possess the cognitive skills to understand translation on a metalinguistic level.  It's enough for them to know this is a dog when I'm with my English-speaking friends and family and a perro when I'm with my Spanish-speaking ones.  Children won't learn another language through English, they'll learn another language alongside it.

The best thing you can do for your child is get them involved learning another language as young as possible and keep it up.  When your child is able to communicate easily with friends from other cultures and gets a multinational job that needs a bilingual, they'll thank you!

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