The gift of tongues: More languages gives kids better brains

BILINGUAL FAN: Alex Spengler, of Goonellabah, with his three-year-old son Arthur encourages his boy to speak and read Portuguese wherever and whenever possible.
BILINGUAL FAN: Alex Spengler, of Goonellabah, with his three-year-old son Arthur encourages his boy to speak and read Portuguese wherever and whenever possible. Marc Stapelberg

THE days of non-English speaking immigrant children abandoning their parents' languages are becoming a thing of the past, with experts agreeing that bilingualism is only a good thing.

At Goonellabah not-for-profit childcare centre, Care-Ring, there are several bilingual kids who speak languages other than English.

"Last year we had quite a few children with two languages, and one family had three," Care-Ring's director Tammy Everingham said.

"We always encourage them to use the language they feel comfortable with."

Care-Ring parent, Brazilian-born Alex Spengler, felt more knowledge about bilingualism was needed in early childhood education to support his three-year-old son Arthur.

Arthur was having a mild delay in language development and Mr Spengler wanted to find out why, and if it was a problem.

Last week Mr Spengler and Care-Ring put on a seminar in Lismore on bilingualism funded by a Department of Education grant. The event brought a surprise crowd of more than 100 parents and educators from as far away as Toowoomba and the Gold Coast.

University of Western Sydney early childhood expert Dr Christine Jones Diaz was flown up to address the seminar.

Due to its assimilation hangover, Dr Jones Diaz said Australia was actually considered a "language graveyard" because of the number of languages being lost in individuals.

And losing languages, it turns out, is a bad thing: Speaking more than one language is now seen as an asset for a country and an individual.

In other regions, such as Europe, speaking up to six languages is not uncommon, or in Asia multiple dialects are understood by many.

It's also better for kids' brain development, and their sense of cultural identity. Maintaining their parent's language helps children feel at home in both cultures, rather than separated from both.

Back here in Australia, the wheel is finally turning.

Mr Spengler said kids who were learning more than one language under the age of five years often took a little longer to start speaking fully as their growing brains processed twice the amount of information, but that was okay.

"From zero to five years old is the best time to do it," Mr Spengler said. "Kids can learn two to three languages at one time."

His research has reinforced his and partner Cristina Massia's approach to speaking Portuguese with Arthur wherever possible, even in public, and also reading in Portuguese with him.

"Learning languages is a window to a whole new world," Mr Spengler said. "It actually makes people more tolerant and respectful, instead of being afraid, scared or aggressive. It's a richness in seeing the world from many different perspectives.

"It's good for Australia, not just for economic reasons but for social reasons."

Topics:  education language

Mystery surrounds injured man found by side of road


Police attempting to identify injured man

Exploding water mains an historic issue

PIPE POWER: Lismore's sewerage started following a typhoid epidemic in 1892 and the area was gazetted as a sewerage district in 1901. But the Department of Works was slow and in May 1905, the plague broke out in Lismore, and by July 1906, Lismore's network of clay sewerage pipes was complete.

Damaged pipes put residents in hot water

Seen and heard at Splendour 2017

CREATIVE: Sherradin Thomas, from Gippsland, at Splendour in the Grass 2017.

The unofficial account of what you may have missed

Local Partners

Families that game together, stay together?

FORGET the stereotype of the moody teenager playing his Xbox or PlayStation in a darkened room.

Michael Phelps just raced a shark

Sharks have been snapped surrounding the carcass of a whale off the coast of Fraser Island.

Swimming legend loses by a fin in man versus beast battle

REVIEW: The Bodyguard musical is a great night out

Kip Gamblin and Paulini in a scene from the musical The Bodyguard.

PAULINI tackles Whitney Houston's powerhouse songs flawlessly.

What 'intimidated' Chris Hemsworth's Thor while filming?

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has a new look in the third film.Source:Supplied

It looks like Chris Hemsworth met his match.

RECAP: Game of Thrones s7 episode 2 - Stormborn

Kit Harington in a scene from season seven episode two of Game of Thrones.

*WARNING this story contains spoilers*

‘Who thought this 9/11 movie was a good idea?’

Charlie Sheen is trapped in the Twin Towers on 9/11.

Has this Charlie Sheen movie already trashed on 9/11?

MASTERCHEF: It's Ben versus Diana in tonight's grand final

MasterChef Australia's 2017f finalists Ben Ungermann and Diana Chan will battle it out in Monday's grand final.

Who will take home the show's title and $250,000 grand prize?

'We’re goin' to Bonnie Doon!' and now you can too

How's the serenity?

The experience will have you exclaiming “how’s the serenity?”

New life for Bree and historic Oddfellows Hall

TWO CHANGES: Bree Dahl with her new baby Ivy in front of the historic Oddfellows Hall she purchased at auction and will renovate into a house.

Historic hall to be turned into home

Financial scandal destroys alternative community

Families who gave thousands to be a part of an alternative community at Mt Burrell, west of Murwillumbah, are now trying to recover their investment. Picture: Jamie Hanson

Dream Utopia turns into a nightmare

Mum buys $900,000 apartment for her 8-year-old son

Tania Katsanis beat another couple of homeowners to secure the winning bid.

The apartment was a 'bargain' as the property market bottoms out