Blog Opinions

Bilingual. Trilingual. How Many Languages Are Enough?

The world is changing. These days, more and more parents are interested in raising bilingual and even trilingual children.

Some parents are more ambitious. They wish their children learn as many languages as possible.

If you ask me: How many foreign languages do you wish your children to learn?My answer is: One.

English is my children’s native language. If they are also fluent in Mandarin Chinese, I will be very happy.

Why learn only one foreign language? I have my reasons.

1, It takes a lot of time to be fluent in one language. 

As a language learner myself, I know it is not easy to be fluent in a language. It takes a lot of time and hard work to be good at any languages.

Unless your child is very talented or he has a strong interest in learning languages or he has a great environment that can benefit his language learning.

For example, some kids have parents coming from different cultural and language backgrounds, which provides them big language learning advantages.

Or a child lives in a very diverse area where most people can speak several languages fluently.

Otherwise, in my opinion, if there is no possibility to be fluent in a  language, it is time-wasting to learn this language.

2, Some foreign languages are not necessarily valuable. 

I am fluent in Mandarin Chinese and English. I also learned German for some time.

Based on my personal experience, a language is valuable when it is used often.

I learned German but I have no chance to use German at all. In my case, I don’t see the value of learning German.

Of course, some parents might argue: I live in an area where mastering several languages is very necessary.

If it is your situation, then learning several languages is a good idea.

Otherwise, I don’t see the point to spend a lot of time and efforts to learn a language that you might never have a chance to use.

3, Learn only one foreign language and be good at it. 

If you wish your child to learn a second, even third, fourth language for the benefit of learning foreign languages, I suggest to have your child just focus on learning one foreign language.

By focusing on learning only one foreign language,  your child has a big possibility to be an insider of that language.

There is a Chinese saying: 不怕千招会 ( bú pà qiān zhāo huì), 就怕一招精 ( jiù pà yī zhāo jīng ).

It means: It doesn’t matter how much you know, it does matter how good you are.

If your child is really good at one foreign language, compared to another child who knows some of several languages at rusty level, your child is very possibly to have more opportunities in a field where the foreign language is needed.

4, If possible, your child can learn more languages in the future.

Since I learned English, I am confident that I can learn another foreign language well if learning another foreign language is very necessary.

Learning English provides me a lot of experiences and lessons to learn another language.

When I learned German, even German grammar rules confused me a lot, but I didn’t feel stressed as I learned English.

If your child develops a strong interest on learning more languages, I am sure, his experiences of learning his first foreign language will help his future language learning.

Of course, if you are confident that your child has the ability to be excellent in several languages at the same time or  you have the ability to have your child to be exposed to as many languages and cultures as possible, that is another story.

As a Mandarin teacher at a language learning preschool, I saw what happened when a child was learning two, three or more languages.

Compared to kids who only learn one foreign language, kids who learn two or more foreign languages have a very hard time communicating well in either language.

As a mom of two bilingual children, even my children are required to learn only English and Mandarin Chinese, I know my children are struggling many times, especially, during the early years.

In my opinion, learning one foreign language provides enough benefits for my children’s brain development and cultural consciousness, I don’t see the point why learn a second foreign language.

Of course, if my child wishes to learn more foreign languages, that is his choice. I will be happy for him. After all, learning a new langauge opens another big window to another new world and culture. However, as a parent, I just wish my child to learn one foreign language very well.

How many languages do you wish your child to learn? What is your reason to have your child learn a specific language? I would love to hear from you.