For many families, speaking multiple languages at home is very normal. Being bilingual means you can speak two languages. Multilingual people may speak even more than two languages
fluently. Rates of bilingualism and multilingualism in much of sub-Saharan Africa are very high. However, there is no clear data on this. What is clear is that many languages are at risk of dying out, as fewer and fewer people are speaking them. This article gives a few reasons why speaking multiple languages is beneficial for families.
Colonial impact on languages:
Due to colonialism, English and French have become the languages used by governments and schools. Thankfully, much of sub Saharan Africa has maintained its linguistic diversity. Being able to speak the language of one’s family and one’s ancestors is important. Speaking these languages helps in learning history and feeling a sense of belonging. Nevertheless, learning English and French is sometimes still thought of as necessary for economic mobility. Many parents may worry that children need to focus on English or French at home too. However, children will often get enough exposure to French or English at school, so it is not necessary to
also speak in this language at home.
Benefits to Multilingualism:
French and English are sometimes seen as economically necessary. However, there are many benefits to keeping societies multilingual. One main benefit is that raising a child bilingually or multilingually may actually help brain development. Babies are born being able to take in any language spoken around them. And the younger a child is, the easier it will be to learn new languages. So research suggests that parents speak multiple languages around children, if possible.
Also, knowing multiple languages helps children’s social skills. One study has shown that bilingual children were better at judging how other people were feeling. The researchers concluded that this made bilingual children more empathetic. Additionally, allowing children to speak in another language at home can give them a stronger sense of their culture and history.
Being multilingual helps in later life too. As children grow up they are able to communicate with more people. They can either use one of the languages they have spoken at school or the language of the school. Jobs as translators and interpreters are available to people with multilingual skills. Further, bilingual adults may actually be able to keep their brains active for longer. Some studies have shown that bilingual brains don’t get diseases like Alzheimer’s as early as people who speak only one language.
Though schools may teach in just one language, it is important to keep up other languages at home. There is a slowly growing trend in much of sub-Saharan Africa to offer schooling in languages other than just French or English. But, until more schools adopt this, it is important for children to continue speaking other languages at home. As shown, this will help to stimulate their brain and aid social development.