In the global community that our kids are growing up in, only being able to communicate in one language is beginning to seem rather old-fashioned. Here are some good reasons to encourage bilingualism in your child.
is learning another language important?
People who can use two languages are called bilingual. Anyone can learn a new language, but children usually find it a lot easier than adults, because their brains are wired for learning. That’s why the sooner your child starts being exposed to a second language, the better.
But why would they want to, particularly if they already speak English, which is used internationally? Research indicates that bilingual children score higher on both verbal and math standardised tests than children who only speak one language. They also are better at logic and creative thinking. And perhaps surprisingly, they are less likely to develop symptoms of ADHD, because the part of the brain used for planning, judgment, memory, problem solving and staying focused is stronger in bilinguals.
Melissa Heyrick from Mandarin Stars says: “Learning another language has cultural and social benefits because it gives children a wider view of the world and an understanding of more than one culture. It promotes and nurtures social cohesion, peace and an acceptance of cultural and linguistic differences amongst our communities. It helps children understand their own language and culture through comparison with another language and culture, and it encourages children to learn how to communicate across cultural boundaries.” In our globalised world, it’s becoming important for people to communicate in multiple languages across cultural boundaries.
how do you introduce a new language?
Children can learn another language at home, at preschool, at school, and even from friends and neighbours. Speaking a second language is like any other skill: you need to practise.
If a parent can speak a language other than English, they can use it at home from the beginning. Many children grow up learning two languages at the same time. Alternatively, you may opt for speaking only your language at home and let your child learn English when they enter the early childhood education system.
If you’re not bilingual, an excellent way to expose your child to another language is through formal or informal language classes. Speak Spanish, for example, offers courses that are fun, interactive and involve practical communication skills communication. Their website is filled with visual and audio materials such as posters, children’s songs and videos. This helps people get a taste of authentic Spanish as they listen to native Spanish speakers and learners from different countries (with transcriptions). Another language centre, Mandarin Stars, use themes and topics of central interest to the students, in an immersion-based Mandarin Chinese language setting that is relevant to the modern world. All of their classes have a strong focus on developing listening and speaking skills through games, singing, dancing, drama, story time, craft, reading and writing activities. Children learn about Chinese culture through Chinese cooking, festivals, calligraphy, Tai Chi and Kung Fu.
DVDs with multiple language tracks are another brilliant tool to promote language development. For example, you can watch Barbie Princess And The Pauper in English the first time, and from then on select the soundtrack to play in French or German. CDs with foreign language kids’ music are also helpful.
Also, if you don’t know a language other than English, consider learning it with your child. It’s a wonderful bonding experience.
will learning two languages cause speech problems?
Children all over the world learn more than one language without any development trouble. Bilingual children acquire language skills just as other children do. Although they may begin speaking a little later than their monolingual friends (2–3 months’ delay has sometimes been reported), their understanding of both languages develops at the same rate as that of other kids.
Occasionally, bilingual children may mix grammar rules, or they might use words from both languages in the same sentence, particularly if they’re speaking one language and suddenly substitute one word from their second language. This is a normal part of bilingual language development.
As time goes by, they sort it all out and become excellent communicators.
Experts agree that to make things less confusing you should always address your child in the same language (e.g., the mother always speaks Swedish to the children, the father always speaks English), although it’s fine for other people to use another language.
Russian psychologist Vygotsky said it best: “Bilingualism frees the mind from the prison of concrete language and phenomena.” When you realise there is more than one way to express yourself, a whole new dimension opens up to you and the world, to borrow a cliché, becomes your oyster.
- Over 150 major research studies confirm that being bilingual gives your brain cognitive advantages. Those advantages are both in linguistics (better grasp of grammar, better comprehension of text, better vocabulary), as well as in areas seemingly unrelated to language (problem solving, mental flexibility, focus, and multitasking).
- If you’re bilingual, it’s easier to learn a third language later on in life, than it is for a monolingual person to learn a second language.
- Studies suggest bilingual adults’ brains have a different chemical setup, making it more likely to offset the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease.
ages and stages
Here are some simple things you can do to foster and promote bilingualism, for parents who are immersing their child in a second language.
Find and learn some nursery rhymes to sing in another language
Read books with simple words using another language
Play traditional music CDs from other countries
Seek out any bilingual playgroups or learning centres
5- to 8-years
Play DVDs using the soundtrack from another language
Continue to read simple books from another language
Play audio CDs telling stories in another language
Consider taking your child to an extracurricular language school
9- to 12-years
Encourage your child to read books in their chosen second language
Encourage learning about that country’s cultural and historical background
Expose your child to as much of the language as possible through audiobooks, movies and music.
by Yvonne Walus