About multilingual and bilingual children
Knowing about the benefits that Bilingualism can helps us to stick to our decision in difficult times. It also motivates us to continue when our child reaches a “learning plateau". Below you can find useful hints and tips about rising bilingual or multilingual children.
Advantages of bilingualism in children:
Bilingualism enables the child to communicate with all members of the close and extended family as well as with friends. This helps developing a good family cohesion and building relationships. Bilingualism allows greater flexibility to choose a place to live and work
As language is part of culture, Bilingualism develops a broader cultural understanding and multicultural sensitivity, greater tolerance and social harmony.
Research shows that learning and use of more than one language:
enhances problem solving and analytical skills,
allows better formation of concepts,
increases visual-social abilities,
furthers logical reasoning,
supports cognitive flexibility.
Bilingualism also helps to:
increase flexibility and adaptability,
enhance interpersonal and social skills,
develop greater social sensitivity.
The understanding and development of concepts in more than one language allows the transfer of academic skills across the languages.
Bilingualism facilitates collaborative and cooperative learning within a language-diverse environment. Languages can be chosen as subject at school or university.
Tips and Tricks for Bilingual Parents
Several strategies have been tried by many families over the past centuries and are well researched regarding their effectiveness. Please discuss the following strategies with all family members (including grandparents, brothers, sisters etc.) and find a joint decision. It is advisable to stick to one strategy as early as possible in the child’s life:
One Person – one language
Each parent speaks with the child in his/her language. The child is able to develop a “single-language” relationship to each parent.
Minority language at home
Both parents speak their joint minority language at home and the child learns the majority language away from home. If you decide to speak the minority language at home, but not in public, your child might feel that this language is not being good enough to be spoken in public. This may affect the child’s identification with the minority language. Trust multicultural Australia’s ability to deal with many languages.
Both parents – both languages
Parents chose the language according to their needs. As the majority language is heard and spoken everywhere else, we recommend speaking the minority language at home, and as much as possible in other places.
Minority language is only spoken occasionally
The minority language is only spoken at special occasions, at certain times and/or special places. This strategy makes a good start to (re-)introduce the minority language to a child who already speaks the majority language.
If you meet with speakers of another than your language, explain that you speak to your child in the family language. You can ask the people involved whether they would like you to repeat what you and your child said in English.
When and How to Start
Introducing the family language from birth
We recommend starting as early as possible, i.e. when the child is born.
Introducing a second/third… language later in a child’s life is possible. Some families might wish to start with the second language when the first one is firmly established, i.e. when the child is about 3-4 years old. No research has shown that this strategy is better for the language and literacy ability of the child.
Introducing the family language later than English
(Monolingual children might be introduced to a new language as a special thing, gradually, starting with explaining words and songs, stories, books, using special occasions, making it a game with lots of fun and no stress.
You can introduce 1 or 2 words a day, depending on the age of the child, stimulating the visual (pictures), hearing (songs) and tactile (object itself) senses. To see if the child absorbed a word, let it choose or point at the object you name and as the last learning step the child will be able to repeat the word itself. For older children you can label objects in your home, such as door, table, shelf.
Introducing English later than the family language
Your child is settled in your family language and you want to prepare it for the English speaking environment in general or its start with school?
Stick to your chosen strategy for your family language and let others teach your child English. Expose your child to English as much as possible, for instance:
meeting with English speaking friends
For children of pre-school age childcare centres organise one-on-one support for the child with a bilingual childcare worker through the Ethnic ChildCare Resource Unit ECCRU (initially 6 sessions with option for extension).
Special English learning support programs for non English speaking children at school-age are available at various locations around Perth. All programs are supported by ESL. More details available from Education Department of WA.
We encourage parents to match the vocabulary development of their children through Migrant English courses, TAFE courses and/or private language learning arrangements.
Tips to Help your Child with Language Learning
Bilingualism is a process, it doesn’t simply happen… But we can work at it.
To enable your child to speak a language well, you have to communicate as much as you can. The more opportunities your child has to practice a language the faster this language will be learnt.
Here is what counts in successful language learning:
Set your goal
Decide what bilingualism suits your child and your family situation. Do you like to have your children just understand the family language or enable them to speak, read and/or write it as well? Only when the child grows into an adult, who is fully functional in the family language, he/she might be able to teach it to his/her own children.
If you speak your heritage language, stick to it! Be persistent, perseverant and patient.
Lots of Encouragement
Encourage the child to speak in the other language.
Repeat the child’s words in the correct form.
Follow up with music, books, stories, tapes and computer software in your language. Create language games according to your child’s development. Make your own collection of rhymes and riddles that you can use over and over again.
Invent a language routine. For instance, when you go to the shops or on a walk, when travelling in the car or brushing teeth, use the family language to tell certain stories or speak about certain topics.
Speak your language properly
Parents and other adults are role models for their children’s language behaviour. Talk about your life, about what you see, feel, want, like and share your thoughts.Speak your language well. Use the appropriate names and make whole, short sentences. Develop your own language skills by reading, talking and writing in your language.
And please, don’t mix your languages!
Broad range of Conversation Partners
Show the child that other people speak your language, too.The child needs to hear the language from many different speakers (old, young, male and female voices, various accents and dialects, different media like phone, radio, tape). Enlist the help of family members of your language, like grandparents. Mix with other people who speak your language in different situations and environment. The child learns how adults communicate while listening to communication between same language speakers.
Make it Fun
Support the child at its own pace. Focus on the fun involved and avoid stress. Try to give your child incentives that work. Enjoy every little progress and focus on small success.
Take your language to school
Let teachers, other parents and children in your child’s school know, what languages your family speak. Support teachers in preparing classes in your language.
Ask teachers to set up bilingual term projects, for instance if your child can deliver a project about snails in your language. This could not only enrich the language classes for other children at school, it also increases academic cognitive language abilities in your child and is at the same time a great preparation for TEE in the family language.
Test your Knowledge!
Right or Wrong?
Bilingualism is an exception.
False – In fact: Monolingualism is the exception. Two third of world population speak more than one language.
More than one language confuses the child and it mixes the languages.
False – No research has yet shown that speaking one language only gives advantages to a child.
Bilingual children go through stages when they mix languages. Their vocabulary in both languages is rarely equally developed. They not only have to learn which word is appropriate in each language, but also which word belongs to which language.
Our tip: Just repeat mixed sentences in the correct form and flow on. Try to balance the vocabulary in both languages, i.e. talk about out-of-home activities in your language.
A language is nothing more than language.
False – As language is the means of communication, it is heavily interlinked with culture. Language learning means understanding the culture the language belongs to as well.
Bilingualism means speaking more than one language without accent.
False – It is not unusual for bilingual children to speak one language with a foreign accent.
The dominance of one language to another may change from time to time and the accent often changes with it.