As a parent, there are many things to consider when bringing up a child. For example, how to discipline them, what diet to give them, and what time they should sleep. One thing that inevitably comes into consideration is what language the child should be brought up with.
In multilingual families, it might be a matter of choosing between one or more languages that the parents speak, or even how many languages to teach the child. In single-language families, the question may not seem so relevant – yet, there is the possibility of exposing one’s offspring to foreign languages. In fact, it is not uncommon today for parents to bring up the child in a language that is not native to them. For example, one or both parents may have learnt a foreign language in school, which they grew to love, and thus want to pass it on to their child.
There are some compelling reasons why more parents today are choosing to teach their child a non-native language in addition to their native tongue:
- It opens up more opportunities: Knowledge of a particular language gives one access to the market of those speakers. Thus, when one can speak more languages, they have more choices of careers and educational pathways.
- It develops the brain: Numerous studies have reported enhanced cognitive development in bilingual individuals as compared to monolinguals. In addition, children who learn two or more languages at a young age are better equipped with language-learning skills. This makes it easier for them to pick up new languages further down the road.
- It introduces them to other cultures: Language is strongly tied to culture. Learning a language often comes with learning about the culture of the speakers of the language. For people in a globalised and diverse world, it is beneficial to be exposed to cultures other than one’s own, to develop cultural sensitivity and awareness from a young age.
While nurturing children to be bilingual has its benefits, bringing up bilingual children with a non-native language is inherently challenging. When parents have limited knowledge of the foreign language, they will inevitably speak more in their native tongue, skewing the child’s exposure to one language and stunting their growth in the other.
However, numerous parents out there seem to have achieved the impossible, by successfully bringing up their child bilingual with a non-native language. It takes work, but it can be done. Here are some tips to help your child pick up both the native and foreign languages from a young age:
Enrol them in an effective bilingual programme
As with learning any language, it is helpful to have the guidance of native-speaking teachers and a structured curriculum. With so many language classes in the market, there is bound to be one that caters to your chosen language. Yet, the best type of bilingual education for children has to be the immersive nature of a dual-language programme.
As the first of its kind in an international school in Singapore, the 50-50 strategy is used in Canadian International School’s bilingual programme. This means that if classes are taught in English on Monday, they will be delivered in the other language on Tuesday, and so on. The IB-PYP-aligned syllabus also includes instruction by one native speaker for each language for each class. This method of imparting bilingual skills has been proven by CIS’s stellar track record, and is one of the most natural and engaging ways for children to pick up two languages at once.
Learn alongside them
It will be difficult for children to pick up a language that they only learn in school. As children need sufficient input to be able to grow their skills in the language, the foreign language should be incorporated into the home to co-exist with the native language. Parents can do so by learning the foreign language with the child. Doing so can motivate them and set an example for them. Show them that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that learning is a lifelong process. By making language learning a family pursuit, parents and children can also bond over learning.
Play educational games
Young children learn naturally through play. This makes games a good way to involve kids in learning. Parents can engage their children in educational games using both the native language and the foreign language, to help children expand their knowledge of both languages. Some games that are useful for language learning include Charades and ‘I Spy’. The games promote the use of language to describe and name objects, making them great for expanding one’s vocabulary.
Expose them to media in both languages
To increase children’s exposure to both languages, parents need to put in conscious effort to make media in the foreign language available to them. Make it a point to visit the library and have their children borrow an equal number of books for each language each week. Similarly, for television shows, parents should encourage their children to watch some in the native language, and some in the foreign language.
Visit cultural groups that speak the languages
Learning a language comes with learning about its culture. Thus, it can be very enriching to allow your children opportunities to interact and converse with native speakers of your child’s second language. For a start, you can link up with relatives, neighbours, or colleagues who speak the language. If you let them know that your children are learning their language, most will be more than happy to give language guidance and tell stories about their culture.
Bringing up children as bilinguals with a non-native language is challenging, but possible and well worthwhile. Give your child the gift of bilingualism by enrolling them in a bilingual programme with IB education in Singapore, and by incorporating interactive language learning at home. Alongside your child, you can give them the boost they need to become fluent speakers of both languages and let them reap the benefits of being a bilingual speaker.