Could Bilingualism Be Essential to Future Success?

Nichole Leigh-MostyUncategorized

While attending the recent ScuttleBugs annual Luau I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak to a few parents. One conversation I am very thankful for regarded bilingualism, and how best to handle raising our children as bilinguals.
My experience living in Iceland trying to ensure that my children not only learn my mother language, English, but that they are also afforded the opportunity to connect with the culture of my home country has not been easy. In all honesty I have not received a lot of support in doing so. When my children were in preschool I received mixed messages from teachers and “experts” regarding my children’s linguistic development. The most difficult message I received when my son was young was from one “expert” who went so far as to tell me bilingualism “got in the way of Icelandic language acquisition”. Fortunately those “experts” really didn’t have much knowledge about multilingual language acquisition and the progression of language development in multilingual children.


Beyond raising my children I had the honor of working with many immigrant parents in my early childhood school. A lot of those parents had also received mixed messages and were often insecure and confused. I was so concerned with those mixed messages that I based my M. Ed. research thesis on parent’s perspectives regarding bilingualism.

Truth told my actual day to day mom-to-child experience raising my children to speak Icelandic and English has been a joy. We have had lots of fun bridging between Icelandic and English, both linguistically and culturally. There were times when I wondered whether or not I was taking all the right measures. Was I doing enough to teach them English? Was I giving them enough space to properly learn Icelandic? Was all of this too much for them? Today they are 11 and 10 years old, both completely fluent in both English and Icelandic. They meet all of the language development standards in their school and they read and write English at home.
On the culture and heritage side of this they have both developed a love for “almost” all things American. My son can tell you all you would like to know about any POTUS in the history of the United States and my daughter cannot wait for our next trip home to Grandma and Grandpa who live in Michigan. Three things she can’t wait to do are to go to the local fruit orchard to pick Michigan Cherries straight from the tree, go to the sandy white beaches at Lake Michigan, and visit the Henry Ford Museum. Due to my work here with ScuttleBugs they have both expressed an interest for learning more about things in the West for example Native American Indians, Yosemite National Park, and Area 51. Neither of them however are as keen as their mother to learn to surf here in California. This has in no way affected their ability or desire to learn and love everything about their home country and all things Icelandic. The only time anything was truly ever difficult was when we, their parents, made it difficult in our minds.

I will not attempt to tell you in a short blog the best way to raise a bilingual child. There are so many theories and much literature regarding the best way to ensure your children learn multiple languages. There are also loads of research regarding benefits for bilingual learners as well as certain difficulties a parent might encounter. In the end no matter what research one reads or methods one might apply, it will always come down to making a decision and sticking with it. Your role as a parent will blur at times as you take on the additional role of teacher and advocate for your heritage or mother language and culture. That is however a decision we made when we decided to have children: we are inherently teaching them things all the time. Why shouldn’t we allow ourselves the fun of sharing our mother language and the culture connected to it?

I remember once having to help my daughter with her Icelandic homework. We got stuck on a word which I had to translate to find the English equivalent. I was so relieved that she and I could speak together in my mother tongue when I explained the word as I was able to speak not only about the literal meaning, but also explain the meaning of the word from my heart and share an experience from my youth growing up “back home in the states”. She understood the word across languages and could now use it in more than one context. I remember thinking in that moment the possibilities for her will be more than for me as she grows being able to think in multiple languages and contexts.


The world our children will govern will be inherently more diverse than the world we currently know. Technology is constantly breaking down barriers and borders and will continue to do so. When I moved to Iceland just under 20 years ago less than 7% of the resident population were immigrants and an even smaller percentage of those immigrants had working permits. Today we are pushing 15% with resident permits and over 20% with working permits. In 2018 immigrants made up 61% of Canada’s population growth. According to OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) “Migrants accounted for 47% of the increase in the workforce in the United States and 70% in Europe over the past ten years.

Migrants fill important niches both in fast-growing and declining sectors of the economy. Like the native-born, young migrants are better educated than those nearing retirement”. We don’t have to look any further than right here around us in Silicon Valley to understand the value placed on bilinguals throughout various companies and society. We have top level executives who lead international business, young men and women right out of university creating new technologies in cooperation with universities and companies across the globe, and at the local Jack in the Box servers who can assist people of all nationalities with the use of two or more languages. According to the New American Economy the demand for job market for bilinguals has more than doubled in the past five years.

So if I may allow myself to encourage any of you who are questioning how or if you should teach your child your mother language, please do. And at my request, please enjoy the ride knowing you are providing your child with a valuable tool for their future.