Welcome to this second part, where we’re going to be highlighting the cognitive benefits of having a bilingual brain and being bilingual or trilingual.

Bilingualism has positive effects at both ends of the age spectrum: Bilingual children as young as seven months can better adjust to environmental changes, while bilingual seniors can experience less cognitive decline. And the benefits can been in students who’ve studied with Idiomas Advantage!

It’s interesting to note that up to 1970s, bilingualism in children was often seen as being a disadvantage and to be the cause of a variety of learning difficulties from dyslexia to slowing down learning in general.

In the 21st century, neuropsychology and neurolinguistics as well as more recent studies using brain imaging technology have uncovered many cognitive benefits of being multilingual.

Firstly, It would appear that having at least two sets of languages strengthens the 4 main cognitive processes: memory, attention, perception and emotional skills, including being able to take another person’s perspective and be better at solving mental puzzles and sorting games.  Other research points to benefits in the development of other executive functions, such as planning and maintaining attention, inhibitory control, task switching and resolving conflict.

Studies have also shown that bilingual children achieve higher scores than monolinguals on a number of tests of cognitive ability, including mental flexibility, working memory, non-verbal problem-solving tasks, understanding the conventional origin of names, distinguishing between semantic similarity and phonetic similarity.

Happy family having fun, playing board game at home, happiness concept. People pet love concept.

A third area that bilinguals seem to benefit from is a delay and lessening in the deterioration of cognitive competencies by improving the cognitive reserve, that is, the protective effect of mental and physical activity carried out throughout life in the face of healthy aging. The onset of symptoms in people suffering from dementia may be delayed by just over four years.

A further surprising benefit of bilingualism that speaking several languages  you are twice as likely to recover your normal cognitive functions after a stroke. In one study, 40.5% of bilinguals recovered normal cognition, compared to 19.6% of monolinguals.

So, even if you weren’t raised as a bilingual in a bilingual community or family, the benefits of speaking another language regularly at a high level can bring a multitude of cognitive and social benefits right through to old age.

This is why you should sign up for a language course with idiomas advantage right now!!


I’ve always found it strange that some people are not convinced of the advantages of having a bilingual brain and being bilingual. When you think about it there are some many positive reasons for being or becoming one.

When we talk about benefits, we have to divide them into two broad areas, the social and cognitive ones. As we’ll see, bilingualism has positive effects at both ends of the age spectrum: Bilingual children as young as seven months can better adjust to environmental changes, while bilingual seniors can experience less cognitive decline.

In this first part we’ll look at the social benefits of being bilingual or even multilingual, whether you’ve reached that level as a child or an adult.

It should be obvious that knowing more than one language has certain advantages, especially if you speak major world languages. Or isn’t it?

Firstly, it makes it easier for you to travel, meet and understand better more people in those countries that speak that language as well as gain access to twice as much literature. And you can delve deeper into the culture of a language without having to rely on translations.

It should also be said that if you have raised your child in your language and you live in a country that doesn’t speak that language, it will mean that your offspring will be able to learn about their parent’s country more easily. Moreover, if you have family in the heritage language country, your children will be able to get to know their cousins and relatives there. This last reason is a justification in itself even if your language isn’t a major one.  For more about bringing up your child in your language, check out The 5 Key Strategies of Successful Bilingual Families:The Step-by-Step Guide for parents. On Amazon now.

Another very important benefit these days is in the business world. With an ever-expanding global market, knowing two or more languages will open more doors in the job market. It has also been reported that you are likely to earn a higher salary on average. I’ve been involved in carrying out professional language level interviews for candidates in selection processes. Sometimes, a competent level is the difference between getting the job or not.

And last but definitely not least, many people find bilinguals and multilinguals more interesting and attractive! What do you think? If none of those social advantages has convinced you, in the second part of this series, we’ll look at the cognitive ones.


¿Sabias que los no nativos también pueden criar a sus niños en inglés u otro idioma?


Evidentemente, necesitarás un nivel alto del inglés. Pero ¿Qué nivel? Pues, ¡cuanto más alto mejor! Piensa en la relación que quieres con tu hijo. Si no puedes expresar todo los que quieres transmitir y comunicar, pues, podrías frustrarte, e incluso, podrías acabar por perjudicar la relación. Son los matices que realmente llevan el sentido de la comunicación en muchos casos. 

¿Mis hijos acabarán por hablar inglés como nativos si los llevo a una escuela británica?

Dependará si es una escuela 100% en inglés, enfocada en un target expatriado, o las llamadas “International Schools” que suelen hacer el 50% o el 33% de las clases en inglés con niños de aquí principalmente. En el primer caso, hay una alta probabilidad que sí, sobre todo si realizan toda su escolarización allí. Sin embargo, en las International Schools tendrán un nivel por encima de la media, pero salvo los niños con un don de idiomas, distarán mucho de ser nativos bilingües.

En los 2 casos hay una serie de pros y contras que trato en el libro además de otras opciones, como las estancias en un país de habla inglesa o si vale la pena contratar a una Au-Pair nativa para cuidar a tus hijos.

También descubrirás porque los niños de algunos padres extranjeros no hablan con sus padres en su idioma. Y, como no ¡el secreto de conseguir que lo hagan!

A partir de hoy, encontrarás las 5 Key Strategies of Successful Bilingual Families en Amazon /Kindle en ebook y tapa blanda

Key Strategy 3. INPUT. You as a Language Model

This blog post is all about the language you speak; your accent, accuracy, and your idiosyncrasies.


I deal with bringing up a child in a language that is not your native one in another post and devote a whole chapter to it in the book. 

With enough exposure, your children will speak with your accent and all your idiosyncratic forms of the language, or idiolect, especially if you are the sole language source.So, remember that they are a mirror of the way you speak. You may hear words and phrases that you did not know you used, and they can always blame you for the way they speak!

To show you how important your parents are in your language and pronunciation acquisition, my mother passed on to me a particular (and wrong!) pronunciation of ‘very’; I pronounced it ‘thery’ /‘ð ɛri/ instead of  ‘very’/vɛri/. Amazingly, this went undetected until a Spanish girlfriend pointed it out when I was twenty-six! Embarrassed, I quickly corrected it.

You may also need to think about grammar and dialect. Languages have standard forms and dialect variations. It is generally best to teach your child the standard forms if possible, so they can communicate with a bigger number of heritage language speakers.

Your idiolect may include dialect words from different countries where you have lived (Irish ones in my case) and others that are passed down like heirlooms through the generations. In my case, we use a few Welsh words, passed down from my great-grandmother (who was a bilingual Welsh-English speaker), and I have now passed these on to my son, so he also says, “Iechyd da” /Yaki da:/  “Cheers!”

The Accuracy of your language

When you have lived in a foreign country for a long time and speak the local language well, it is easy to fall into the habit of using certain local language words in your own heritage language. In some cases, this is probably quite useful, especially if the word is a concept that does not exist in your country of origin. In the UK, for instance, lawyers are divided into solicitors and barristers. It would be fine to say el solicitor if you are speaking Spanish in the UK, as this refers to a type of lawyer only found in the UK. 

A lazy form of language mixing called Spanglish in Spain or Franglais in France is often used by ex-pats.

Typical examples: saying ‘the parking’ instead of ‘car-park’/‘parking lot’, or ‘the camping’ instead of ‘the campsite’, or talking about activities during ‘patio’ instead of ‘break time’/‘recess’. 

You may be the only language model for your child, so whatever you say, the mistakes, slang words and idiosyncrasies of your idiolect will be passed on to them. Try to give them a foundation in standard vocabulary and grammar first.

For more detailed information and advice, check out the book on Amazon: The 5 Key Strategies of Successful Bilingual Families.

Is there a critical age for learning a language? Sequential bilingualism – and the million dollar question.


If you move to another country where your language is not spoken, the age of your child when they start learning the language has an effect on their proficiency.

When a child learns one language first and another one later, this is called Sequential or Successive Acquisition. Parents want to know if children arriving in a new country, where a new foreign language is spoken, will end up speaking the language proficiently or even attain a native speaker level.

The consensus among researchers is that the younger the child is when they arrive, the better. The ‘Critical Period’ Hypothesis says that moving to the country before puberty (so a maximum of eleven or twelve years old) is optimal if you want the child to acquire a native speaker grammar level, but not necessarily the accent. 

Other research suggests that from the age of eight, our ability to learn languages becomes “slower and more academic.” After that age, even with high exposure, living in the target country and going to school there, the child will never gain that native intuition that a sentence is right or wrong.

However, this does not mean that children arriving as teens cannot acquire a native grammar level and speak with a native accent. There are other factors, such as aptitude and natural ability, which are hard to predict and study; but these factors have a strong influence in determining a child’s final language proficiency.

So, the general consensus is that the younger children are when they begin to learn a language, and the more exposure they get, the better they will become.  Lightbown and Spada (see bibliography), for instance, state that the basics of the language have been acquired by around the ages of five or six years old and are developed as the child becomes older.

So bilingual families, according to this view, should aim for high linguistic interaction and exposure in those earliest years. This also means that strengthening the heritage language at home first is not a problem, as children will learn the local language to a native level when they go to preschool.

So, how much exposure to the heritage language do they need per week to become bilingual?

This is the million-dollar question! Remember we are talking about learning the heritage language at the same time as the local language.  Let us take the first five years, as they seem to be crucial.

It has been estimated that by the age of five, monolingual children, living in the dominant language environment, who are awake ten to twelve hours a day, may have been exposed to around 20,000 hours of language from parents, siblings, friends and media input (so, it’s not all interactive). This may not be a totally accurate, but it shows that high exposure in the early years is essential.

Looking back at what I did with my son in the first five years, I aimed for two or three hours interactive contact from Monday to Friday and a minimum of six hours interactive input on holidays and weekend days, playing games, sports, taking walks, going on outings, etc., which included additional hours watching television or films with him (and not just in silence).

He also received passive TV and video input in English when I was not there, sometimes four or five hours.  So, he probably had a total of between six and eight hours’ exposure a day, including the (mostly passive) input at the trilingual school of about two hours or more between the ages of three and five. We only spent two or three weeks per year in the UK at that stage.

If five hours seems a lot of media time, remember that just three sessions of two hours per day makes six hours; and you know how quickly time goes when you are binging on Netflix! This was enough for Marc to reach a bilingual native level in English and speak with an English accent.

If you do the maths, and calculate six hours a day from both interactive and passive contact from a bilingual parent, that makes nearly 11,000 hours of input in five years, which is quite a lot less than a monolingual child would get (in theory). However, this seems to more than enough for many children to reach a bilingual native level in the heritage language.

You occasionally meet children who have received fewer hours input and have a higher level of language proficiency than others with a much richer language environment. I’ve heard non-native English speakers with near perfect accents through but massive input from YouTube videos; so this is some evidence that comprehensible and appropriate content through media can be very beneficial.

The main point is that it is best to provide as much language input as you possibly can, especially in those first five to six years.

For more detailed information and advice, check out the book on Amazon: The 5 Key Strategies of Successful Bilingual Families.

Key Strategy 3: Provide enough exposure to your language (Input)

In previous blog posts I explained the Key Strategies 1 and 2 which are about what language you speak to each other.

Do you spend enough time speaking your language with your children?

Even if you always speak your language (OPOL) and get your child to speak to you in your language (1L2U), if they do not hear and speak enough, they will not pick up the basic structures of the language or native pronunciation. Typically, they will sound ‘foreign’ and make more mistakes than they need to.

What level of proficiency are you aiming for?

Some parents want their children to reach native level in both languages, while others might be happy with a much lower level. Up to a certain point, this is a personal choice, but I believe that a native or very near native level of proficiency in the heritage language is a viable goal.

Bilingual speakers of all ages will occasionally transfer words or phrases between languages and will be stronger or dominant in one of them, but this is only a problem if a child is well below native level.

I fully understand why children do not always get enough exposure. As parents, we can feel too stressed, too tired, or simply unmotivated to spend hours every day playing children’s games and doing activities with them! Many times, I had to make a very big effort after a long day at work.

Variations in the dominance of each language

Your main aim is to encourage your child to be a balanced bilingual – a person who speaks and expresses themselves fluently in two languages. However, almost always you will notice that one language is dominant; this is normally the language that your child hears and speaks more of the time.

Changes in your child’s language environment, such as living and studying abroad, making friends with children who speak one of the languages or less contact from a parent, will affect this balance. Sometimes the effect is only temporary. If you spend the summer in your home country, your children may tell you that they were thinking in the home language rather than the previously dominant (perhaps the local) language.

Bilingual speakers also tend to be more proficient and confident in a language depending on what they are talking about, who they speak to and where. If the heritage language is only spoken at home, your child may not have the vocabulary and language skills in subjects they have learned in the dominant language at school (see Chapters 2 and 3 in Part II about strategies to address this situation).

The third Key Strategy increases your child’s abilities in the heritage language, and also nurtures the heritage language identity.

There is research that suggests that the most important time for children when they are learning a language is from birth to around puberty. And of course, it is usually easier to get children to follow your ideas and instructions before they become more rebellious and independent teenagers! You still need to work on language skills at this period, but the teenage years can be unpredictable, as we all know. The more work you have done previously, the easier it will be when they are older. 

Think about the number of both passive and active hours of exposure your child needs to reach a truly native level; and remember that you are a mirror for the way your child is going to speak.

For more detailed information and advice, check out the book on Amazon: The 5 Key Strategies of Successful Bilingual Families.

Getting your child to speak your language to you (1L2U)

Key Bilingual Strategy 2

The First Key Strategy, OPOL, is about the language you speak to your child; the Second Key Strategy, 1L2U, is about the language that your child speaks to you.

For many parents this is the most difficult strategy to use successfully, and it is very common, even with OPOL, that your child will answer you in the local majority language. Do you know cases of this? Is it your case?

Here are Four methods to maximise same language communication between you and your children

Method 1: Set the language interaction rules from the very beginning

One way of thinking about the languages that we speak to each other is to use a language pattern diagram.  The diagram below shows a trilingual family pattern that works effectively.  

Once you have mapped out the family’s linguistic pattern in this way it makes it easier to understand and practise.

Method 2: Reinforce the strategy from the beginning

 The main communication strategy that babies use is based on survival instinct; it is mostly requests or demands. You should encourage your child to make any requests for food or water, toys or treats, directed at the heritage language parent, in their language. You should create the right pattern of communication right from the beginning.

There is one simple mistake that many people make: when the child asks for something in the majority language, the parent does what the child asks. For example, the child asks for water for the first time – ‘Agua! /de l’eau’ – and you give it to them. You don’t need to do this. You can say, “What? I don’t understand.” A very young child will not realize that you really do understand (this may not work when they are older, so you can use other techniques at that time). 

Method 3: Be disciplined – the ‘firm but fair’ approach

The ‘firm but fair’ approach means being strict but not too strict. It is surprising how many parents say, “I didn’t realise I had to be so disciplined.”

Some parents think it is cruel to be strict or disciplined to insist on their children speaking to them in their language. But think about it. You use discipline to make them eat their food properly, or to be tidy, or to avoid using inappropriate language.

Get them to reply to you in the your language, and insist on it, from the very beginning. And the more input they get, the less likely it will be that they will speak to you in the local language.

Method 4: Provide maximum exposure

If you can create a heritage language environment in your home, success is guaranteed. If you spend enough time speaking your heritage language with your children, then they will inevitably speak to you in that language.

Avoid mixing languages and maximise the amount of input you give them in your language.

The rewards for your perseverance will be a relationship in which you both speak to each other in the same language, which is more normal than speaking two different languages to each other. Which do you prefer?

For all 5 Key strategies + 5 more, get a copy of


One Parent One Language (OPOL)

Key Bilingual Strategy 1

        3 outcomes and 5 reasons why it’s the best approach

The One Language One Parent (OPOL) approach is the first of the Five Key Strategies and is about the language you speak to your child. To make this method work, you need to implement this strategy strictly. Luckily, this is one strategy that you have complete control over! Nobody can make you speak the local majority language to your child if you do not want to.

5 reasons why the OPOL method is best for success

1.      You express yourself best in your native language; subtleties and nuances are very hard to acquire and use in a second language, however well you learn it.   In some cases, parents may speak the local majority language very well, even to near native level, and they may ask themselves why they do not just speak in that language.  By speaking the local majority language, you are giving no added value to your child. They will get all the input they need in the local language(s) from native speakers.

2.      A language is not just a communication tool, although we use it for communication. When you speak your heritage language, you are transmitting your identity, values and culture to your child. Think about the thousands of colourful idioms, and the way a language shapes our perception of the world; it is so much more than just another subject to learn at school.

3.      You are maximizing the amount of time when you speak the language with your children. You may be their only contact in your language, so my advice is not to mix your heritage language with the majority one (the part-time approach). I have read some books that give examples of families who mix languages, and it works for them, but in many others is does not work. I have never spoken to my son in any language except English in over thirteen years. It is possible and it soon becomes the normal and natural way to communicate.  

4.      When they are teenagers, if you have poor language skills and a foreign accent, your children may make jokes about how you speak. You may lose your authority and their respect. If you speak your native language, you will be able to express yourself far better. 

5.      It is possible that later on in life, when children realise that they were not given the chance to reach native level in a language because the parent didn’t speak it enough, they may feel bad about this. Children will not thank you right now for being strict, but they will when they are older – probably!

There are many variations on this strategy, but why make your life harder than it needs to be!

The OPOL method has been tried and tested and is the one I have used successfully to raise my son to a native level of English in Spain.

For all 5 Key strategies + 5 more, get a copy of