March 30, 2013  • By Dennis Beaver

Today’s article is not about identity theft in the way that we usually think of the term. No one has assumed Sean’s identify, stolen his credit cards or taken anything of monetary value from him.

Something of far greater importance is at risk, but not yet, because “his arrival is expected on the flight deck in mid-June of this year,” as dad — a Navy flier based at NAS Lemoore — described his son’s due date.

Sean will be the first child of a young married couple — Kirk and Kim — who recently dropped by our office on their way to Los Angeles. There are few things which say “Love Story” better than a career military officer, while stationed in Korea, meeting the lovely Korean woman who one day will become his wife.

“Moving to the States and fitting into daily life here in California hasn’t been difficult, in part because I was a high school exchange student in Houston,” Kim stated in perfect American English, with just the right hint of a delightful Texas accent. The reason for their visit was soon revealed, as she explained:

“Our families leave no doubt as to the language they want us to use when speaking with our son. My parents strongly feel that I need to speak to him in Korean, while Kirk’s — both high school English teachers — are insistent on ‘English Only,’ telling us that, unless we use English at all times with Sean’s son in his very early years, he’s going to be confused and this will lead to negative educational consequences.”

Kirk immediately commented, “Something just tells me that’s wrong. Sure, there are going to be communication and cultural differences to deal with anyway, and we of course want to raise our son in a loving home and in the best language environment possible.”

“We don’t want these issues to create problems in our marriage, and after reading a number of articles you’ve written on foreign language, we figured that you would certainly be able to provide credible guidance.”

The compliment was appreciated, and the guidance results from an interesting conversation You and the Law had with Professor Ellen Bialystok of York University in Toronto, Canada. Her research findings are a message to couples everywhere who face these same challenges.

One of the greatest gifts only you can give your children

“Kirk’s parents reflect the standard view — of at least 40 years ago — that exposure to multiple languages was confusing for an infant. Parents were told they needed to simplify a child’s language exposure, and that hearing multiple languages at home were a burden for kids, making it difficult to learn language in general.

“This was completely false, and a great deal of evidence accumulated since the 1990s demonstrates the tremendous benefit in being raised with a second or even third language spoken at home,” she observes.

“Research proved that there was never scientific evidence that learning more than one language was confusing to children, but, rather, that it was in fact extremely beneficial. The brain literally becomes stronger and much more able to handle an enormous variety of multi-tasking situations far better than children raised with only one language,” Bialystok stressed.

“Just think of how damaging those well-intentioned but wrong beliefs created home situations where children were denied their heritage language, access to their extended family and insight into who they are.  The consequences are profound and lifelong.”

“Research shows that when you have two languages, both are always active in your mind — not to the same degree — but both are indeed active. We would expect a problem — intrusion from the other language. But this does not happen. Bilinguals get it right!

“The brain’s Executive Control System manages situations when selection is required, and with bilinguals, it avoids language conflict. It’s a form of multitasking and gets better all the time,” she notes.

“Functional MRI scans of adult bilingual brains show clear network differences. A bilingual’s brain is changed in positive ways which enable much more rapid and efficient processing of material that is more difficult — and which takes more time — for monolingual brains to handle.

Delays dementia symptoms

“There’s even a significant, long-term health benefit,” Bialystok was quick to add, “Because we have proof that fluency in a foreign language helps to delay symptoms of dementia.”

“Parents have a responsibility to give their children that part of themselves which helps to define identity, where they are from, their cultural background, and let’s not overlook one practical benefit: employment.

“Finally, I would tell the couple to picture Kim’s parents, able to not just hold their grandson, not just to go for a walk together, but to talk with him.

“That’s love; it’s what family is all about.”

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.