5 steps to raising a bilingual child

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There was a time when educators believed that a second language was considered a thing for grown-ups and should be introduced in secondary school. That time is long gone! Global communication now requires us to be educated in more than one language and it’s no coincidence that children raised in a bilingual home usually have better cognitive abilities – they are flexible thinkers and excel at critical thinking and problem solving, and usually perform better at school.

By Sharon Roshini Jacob

So, what do I do as an educator to help children and parents on their path to learning a second language and in becoming equally comfortable in two languages? Let me share some easy steps!

1. Start early

Infants learn language with remarkable speed. The key language learning years for children are from birth to age 6. After the age of 6 and as we get older, learning a language becomes progressively harder. Try learning a language as an adult and you will understand the woes.

So, as parents, take advantage of your children’s early years and expose them to other languages. By doing so, you are giving them the opportunity to tap into their natural ability in acquiring new languages.

2. Right environment

Most infants show an interest in music from their early days and believe it or not, they pay more attention to the singing than the speaking of their mothers. And because they absorb the sounds of the language around them long before they are able to speak, as parents and teachers, we can build on this awareness by sharing and enjoying songs and rhymes with our children. Sing nursery rhymes, read verses, clap to the rhythm and let the tune help your child in learning a first or a second language.

Consider joining a playgroup. Dr. Patricia K. Kuhl, a leading researcher on early language and brain development, has stressed that it is important for infants to be emotionally and socially in contact with their parents for them to optimally acquire language.

This is something achievable through playgroups, where you are able to support your child as they learn. And when the learning process itself is a joy, they will learn most easily. A relaxed, fun-filled environment is key!

An added bonus is that through playgroups, you will be connected to other parents of bilingual children and you can use that as an opportunity to support each other.

3. Consistency

Children need exposure and opportunity to practice for them to become effective in a language. One way of making it consistent is the rule “one person, one language”. For example, Mummy speaks only English, Daddy only Mandarin; Grandma and Grandpa also only use one language; each teacher only speaks one code at school.

Don’t worry about language confusion as long as you maintain a consistency with the use of language between the people whom your child is surrounded with. Remember not to mix languages within the same sentence, and daily exposure to both languages is important.

4. Books

“Start reading at birth and never stop”. Parents have come to me on many occasions, confiding that they struggle to find time to read to their children. And my answer to them is simple.

It doesn’t need to be a book with words. A wordless book is really great to begin with. You can create dialogues, talk about what the characters are like and what they might be doing next. Make up your own stories along the way. Wordless books are open-ended treasures and not only does it encourages creativity, it also helps build your child’s imagination!

You can also search for books that come with audio. Some books these days are sold with an accompanying CD containing a voice narration of the book. This is particularly useful for parents who have limited grasp of the new language. This way, you can even learn together with your child!

5. Visits

The ultimate language boost is to visit the country where the language is natively spoken. Total immersion for even a couple of weeks has an amazing effect because children can learn so much even in a short span of time. Fact of life: you will actually learn much faster once you’re in the country, surrounded by locals.

So the next time you’re traveling to a country that speaks a language foreign to you, throw shyness out of the window and try speaking the local language to the best of your ability. Show that you are open to understanding the culture of others. Be a role model to your children.

There are many ways to ensure that foreign language time is ‘quality time’ but like any other aspect of parenting – trust your judgment, and employ your imagination. Is too late to start learning a second language, a third? Never.

By having another language, you have an alternative vision of the world.
-Panos Athanasopoulos

About the writer: Sharon Roshini Jacob

Speech & Drama teacher for 20 years, Sharon Roshini Jacob enjoys teaching children the wonders of expressing one’s best self. Speech & Drama has and will always be close to her heart, because she has gained so much from it and has made her a better teacher over the years.

Sharon currently serves as Principal of Schools for Julia Gabriel Centre and Chiltern House Preschool Kuala Lumpur and heads the Julia Gabriel School of Education, the adult training division of Julia Gabriel Education. She has been instrumental in nurturing the growth of many early childhood educators and has helped many parents in their early years journey raising dramatically different individuals. She is reachable at sharonj@juliagabriel.com.my or visit www.juliagabriel.com.my

This is a sponsored post by Julia Gabriel Centre and Chiltern House.

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