Thursday, 27 September 2012

MULTILIGUALISM: Advantages, Disadvantages, Tips and More

Living in a multicultural country, Australia, it is unavoidable to be exposed to many languages in daily life. In some cases, people learn a second (or a third or more) language from external sources and the LOTE (Languages Other Than English) program at schools where I live is one form of the exposure. However, in many cases, the learning occurs more naturally as there is at least one person in the family that speaks at least one other language apart from English from whom kids have an option of learning another language.

Photo taken from
There are often discussions and various views on bilingualism (or multilingualism in general) in families mostly because it is argued to confuse the kids and the affects of learning more than one language on the learning speed and quality of English in young children. Some parents never or seldom use their mother tongue and try to promote the school language the most and communicate with their children in that particular language whereas some others prefer to encourage the learning of their native language especially at home.

This source explains the benefits of bilingualism in kids as below:

"There's often a slight lag in the speech-language development of both languages in a bilingual household. Over time, though, bilingual children can catch up with their peers and have the benefit of communicating in two languages with proficiency," says Patti Hamaguchi, author of Childhood Speech, Language, and Listening Problems: What Every Parent Should Know.

In other words, kids raised in a two-language household tend to start talking a bit later, but eventually they get on track. And in the long run, speaking two languages (or more) offers big benefits.

There are many other sources consistently demonstrating that there are clear cognitive advantages of multilingual people over monolinguals. There are many research results that emphasise the beneficial effects of high level of proficiency in more than one language in children in many ways such as the positive link between their educational and linguistic achievement and multilingualism.

Before moving onto some suggestions on how to encourage multilingualism in babies and children, it should be noted that children's mother tongues are fragile and can easily be lost in early years of school.

How to Encourage Multilingualism

Communicate: It is claimed that language is learnt primarily through communicating with others. Take every opportunity to interact with your children in the targeted language (your native language).

Use It Well: To be able to teach your children how to use a language appropriately, you need to be a good example too. Use the language well. Use rich vocabulary, use correct grammar etc.

Quality and Quantity: Pay attention to the quality and the quantity of your communication with your child in your target language.

See Opportunities: Everyday life offers many opportunities to practise your language. Talk about colours, shapes, numbers, feelings and so forth. You can do this naturally, without explicit teaching. A casual learning environment would work well especially for young children. As you are out for a walk with your child, talk about the weather, the cars around you, the flowers, the smells you can smell etc. When you are cooking, talk about the ingredients, preparation methods, time it is likely to take, the taste you are expecting it to have and more. When you are changing your baby's nappy, talk about what you are doing, sing a song (in your mother tongue) and so forth. Read pictures, signs and books, tell stories, make up silly songs and dances to go with them if your child responds to them better. Whatever he shows interest in, just try to expand on it using your language.

Use Facilities Around You: Go to your local library with your child and encourage the reading and borrowing of some books and other materials in your first language, try to join the story times of libraries in your language whenever possible, and use the facilities of your child's school to improve his language learning if applicable.

Make it Fun: Don't force your child to learn a language. Encourage and make it a part of your life. Play games with him in that language. Buy or make flash cards, and play word games. Matching games with pictures and puzzles etc would all be helpful too. If your child can read, ask him to read as many plate numbers as he can (in your mother tongue) when you are out for a drive (believe it or not, I used to challenge myself with plate number reading in a second language in a place where there was a constant considerable amount of traffic and I was a university student at the time. I found it fun and helpful). Another game idea is that taking turns with your child, say a word (eg name, vegetable, fruit, or animal) that begins with a particular letter in your mother tongue (eg. Foods that begin with the letter 'L':  lettuce, lemon, lime, loquat etc).

Acknowledge and appreciate what you have today!


Mel@Mellywood's Mansion said...

My kids are learning Japanese at school. I think it's a huge benefit, my eldest recently went over there and was surprised at how well they speak English. I don't have a second language and really wish that I had kept up with it.

Mrs. Lucky said...

I am all for language learning and I so hope my children enjoy it as well. Mr. Junior is able to count at least to five in three languages and can say a few other words in them at this stage. I believe it is a great advantage to start this enjoyable and beneficial learning process nice and early in life. Japanese is one of our favourites too by the way :-)

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