Tips to Learning in a Multi-language home
May 8 2013
The great part of our society is the coming together of different cultures. More and more we are seeing interracial couples with different heritages, allowing our future generations to be even more inclusive and tolerant of differences. The way to strengthen this is to allow children of different cultural heritages to learn both languages and cultures. However managing this can be a difficult and sometimes daunting task, so we have put together some tips.
First, let’s deal with the misconception that people always ask. Can children really learn a second language at a very early age without disturbing their language development? The answer is YES. With very young children, a second language is learnt the same way children learn a first language, which is to say, not really teaching them a language but exposing them to the language. Their minds are like sponges, so exposure at a young age will enable them to grasp the languages. Now that we have addressed that question, here are the tips we suggest:
1) Read to them in the various languages – we have heard from many experts that we should be reading to our children daily at a young age. Not only does it create the love of reading, but reading to them in different languages will help them understand and grasp the language.
2) Be patient – many people react to the fact that maybe a child learning two languages will take longer to develop communication skills with everyone. It is not that the child’s development is delayed; it takes a little longer for them to process and grasp the languages. It will not delay your child’s development in the long term. It is simply that your child is recognizing and producing sounds in more than one language system and that process takes time and practice
3) Communicate to them in the language – Each parent should communicate to the children in the language. This will not be confusing, as the child will learn to differentiate the two languages and know to communicate to one parent vs. the other in the specific language.
4) Don’t switch during emotional situations – It is not beneficial to change from one language to another during an emotional situation. This will negatively impact the child’s view on the language, as they will associate negative feelings with the language. Be consistent!
5) Be patient - Raising multilingual children requires patience, and there are going to be times when doubt sneaks in. As with most aspects of parenting, it's a long term commitment and there will be ups and downs.
The challenge with raising a multi-lingual home will be making sure not to alienate the other parent. If one does not understand the other language, make it a fun experience. As the children get older, have them explain the words to the other parent, improving their knowledge and grasp of the language. The key is that it will also bring a family unit a little closer together.