What are the barriers to speaking

Opportunity or obstacle? How multilingualism affects our brain

People who grow up in a multilingual environment have to master a special challenge: their brain has to constantly monitor which language is being spoken and which is not. Which words belong to the currently used language and which have to be hidden? Which sentence construction is currently correct and which one has to be suppressed? This constant “competition” in the head trains the so-called executive brain functions and makes it particularly easy for bilingual people to hide irrelevant information.

It is well known that bilingualism opens the door to other cultures. But research has also shown that it has a positive effect on cognitive abilities. So what are the linguistic, cultural and social advantages of multilingualism? We asked those colleagues at Leinhäuser who should know best: They either grew up multilingual themselves, raise their children multilingual, or both.

... grew up in France with an English mother and a French father. Her parents used the OPOL (One Person One Language) method, which means that her mother always spoke English to her and her father French.

“As a child, it was normal for me to make mistakes in the lesser-used language, but my mother, an English teacher, always corrected me. Now I am also correcting my children's mistakes. "

People who speak more than one language are often good communicators because they have the ability to intuitively switch from one language to the other. Sarah lived in Germany for more than 10 years before returning to her home country France. She lives there today with her two boys and her husband, who comes from Bulgaria. She understands and speaks Bulgarian, but communicates with her husband mainly in German, which she also uses every day at work. So you can safely call them multilingual, but how does the constant switching between languages ​​affect them?

“When I was in Germany, my German began to overlap my English and French because I was speaking in German with colleagues and, ultimately, with my husband. Both in Germany and now in France, I always speak English with my children, also in front of others, because it is most likely that everyone will understand me. I only change languages ​​when there is someone who doesn't understand me. But that rarely happens and is a question of respect and courtesy. My husband and I speak in our mother tongues when the children are around and switch to German when they are not there. "

Regardless of whether a language is learned in school or as a result of multicultural upbringing, one thing is certain: the greatest advantage of multilingualism is intellectual maturity and the personal development that goes with it. It is the realization that one's own horizon expands and that one can understand, appreciate and get closer to other cultures and people, which would otherwise not be possible in this form.

... was raised monolingual and now speaks four languages. It is important to him to raise his two young children bilingually and to create an environment that is conducive to language acquisition. Craig and his wife also use the OPOL method. He speaks English with his children, his wife speaks German with them.

“When my eldest son speaks English, he sometimes uses German sentence structures and struggles with vocabulary, but it is easy for him to switch between the two languages. There are children from all over the world in his kindergarten, and I am glad that he has already got to know many different languages ​​and cultures in this way and that he hears several languages ​​every day. I am convinced that this enriches his life, gives him a cosmopolitan outlook and encourages him to appreciate his own cultural background as well as that of other people ”.

Research voices say that acquiring a second language requires a level of determination and commitment that can only be achieved by identifying with the culture that produced that language.

was born to an Italian mother and a Lebanese-Brazilian father and spent her early childhood in the United States before moving to Brazil and eventually Germany. Although she speaks French, Italian and English, Portuguese is her strongest language and she believes this is no accident.

“How well a person speaks a foreign language reflects their connection to it. I believe that languages ​​unconsciously awaken associations, for example with a nice holiday memory. For example, my oldest son had a great time in the United States, so he is particularly fond of English. So maybe it has to do with a special experience or with certain people ”.

Paola has two boys: the older one is 18 (born in Germany, two years at an American school), the younger 11 (born in the USA, bilingual school). Most of the time they lived in Germany, so their strongest language is German. But what about your 'mother tongue' Portuguese?

“For me, 'mother tongue' is the language that children speak at school and to which they have the strongest social bond. That is why her 'mother tongue' is not Portuguese, even though I am her mother. In Portuguese they make grammatical mistakes. Their passive speech is great, but they are not that good when they are active. We try to improve your Portuguese by traveling to Brazil or meeting Brazilian friends, but of course German will always be the strongest language ”.

A bilingual person does not automatically speak his inherited language perfectly. Also the way how he comes into contact with it plays a role. The individual language skills still need to be refined in school. For example, if the interaction between parents and child only takes place verbally, the child will be able to speak and understand at a native level, but will have difficulties reading and writing the language.

One thing is certain: in a society in which people who speak with an accent are often met with prejudice, some parents ask themselves whether they should speak to their children in a language other than the idiom of their adopted country. Often the (erroneous) belief prevails that it is a hindrance to the integration of the child and the future of the whole family in the new country if the child speaks the mother tongue of the parents. But the advantages of a bilingual education outweigh the advantages of a somewhat slower learning progress at first. It must be clear to everyone that children who are allowed to grow up in a multilingual environment have an enormous advantage later as adults - especially in the globalized world in which we live today.

“If you speak to someone in a language that he understands, you will reach his head. If you speak to him in his own language, you will reach his heart. "

Nelson Mandela