In Austria and most European countries, more and more children are growing up with more than one language – and already, at preschool age, they usually reconcile the different languages through play. Parents can provide their children with targeted support for multiple language acquisition.
What is multilingualism?
Multilingualism means more than having acquired foreign language skills at school. On the other hand, to be considered multilingual, one does not have to be equally proficient in two or more languages. This view used to prevail in academia. Today, multilingualism means that people can communicate in two or more languages and use several languages in different areas of life.
There are different forms and levels of multilingualism. There may be differences in listening comprehension and reading or speaking and writing in the individual languages. The decisive factor is not competence in one language but the fact that a person uses more than one language daily: for example, the national language at work with colleagues and, in the family environment, the language of origin – this term is often used today instead of “mother tongue.”
Different types of multilingualism
The most common form of multilingualism is bilingualism: for example, a child shares a language of origin with their parents and speaks another national language outside the family. But trilingualism is not uncommon either. It can occur, for example, when parents have different languages of origin, neither of which is the language of the country where the family lives—a possible concrete example: a child with a Moroccan father and a Spanish mother living in Austria.
Advantages of multilingualism
There is widespread consensus in research that multilingualism has advantages. Multilingual are taught a lot about their parents’ homeland through their language of origin. This can have a positive effect on interest in other cultures. This is why multilingual people often have linguistic and so-called intercultural competence. This means they can sometimes empathize well with people from different cultures or mediate conflicts. Such competencies are among the soft skills that are becoming increasingly important in modern professional life. Multilingualism can therefore contribute to good starting conditions for a career.