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Why it's good to pass on heritage languages to your kids

Updated: May 21, 2023

If you or your co-parent are feeling hesitant about passing on a heritage language to your child, here are some pointers to keep in mind..


Topic: language, cultural heritage, racial identity, self-esteem, children, parents, mixed race families.

Passing on a heritage language is a powerful way to cultivate belonging, self-esteem and positive racial identity in children. With third-culture kids and kids of mixed heritage growing up in majority-white communities, this is particularly important as it helps to break down ideas of cultural and racial hierarchy that they may be up against.


Despite this, many parents still hesitate at teaching their children a second language where it is not English or ‘European’. Often out of fear it may negatively impact their educational success.


But the research is clear that this is simply not true!


Here are some things to keep in mind if you are feeling hesitant about passing on your heritage language/s to your child:


#1 Learning multiple languages will NOT confuse your child


Children do not get confused by the introduction of multiple languages at the same time. Their brains are perfectly able to process the learning of multiple languages simultaneously.


The key is to provide consistency in exposure so that they can actually pick them up! eg. one person, one language; or 1 hour a day through play



#2 - It is very good for children’s brains!


Multiple language learning improves cognitive abilities. It helps kids with listening skills, problem solving, memory, concentration and creativity.


In other words, it’s great for kids' brains and their ability to learn and perform!




#3 - It can help with proficiency in other languages


Learning multiple languages helps children understand language structures. This means they are more likely to become literate in all the languages they use.


This means that rather than negatively affecting your kid's English (or whatever the dominant language where you are living is); teaching your heritage language can actually be good for it!



#4 - It can help with academic achievement


A thirty-two year study in the US found that students who spoke multiple languages achieved higher in maths, reading and vocabulary than their peers.


This makes perfect sense when you think about the positive impact language learning has on cognitive skills.


And crucially….


#5 - It builds positive racial identity and belonging


Research has found that exposing kids to multiple languages early, helps them to build positive attitudes to the cultures connected to those languages.


By passing on a heritage language to your child, you are communicating to them that you value the cultures and people that form part of their heritage, giving them permission to feel good about it too.


You are also likely providing your child with the skills to connect with family members and to learn about their heritage cultures themselves as they get older, helping them to feel they fully belong.



To conclude...


If you or your co-parent have access to a heritage language, do consider sharing it with your child! It comes with multiple benefits and is possible to do in just 30 minutes of talking a day.


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