Parents who speak multiple languages often worry about what language they should use in conversation at home with their children.
I have had lots of parents tell me they have just chosen to use English, as it’s the important language of the world, when I hear this it breaks my heart, not only because your mother tongue (family language) is really important but because it will impact negatively on your child’s learning. Your mother tongue (native language) language should never be set aside or forgotten, language carries culture and community, language lets children connect with their roots. (Read Language Development in Children).
So, here are some facts about why I believe children should be exposed to more than one language (when this is naturally possible- e.g. parents speak that language, or you live in a community speaking a language that isn’t your own):
– Children’s brains are wired in a way that makes language acquisition much easier than it is for adults – the younger they are exposed to other languages the easier it will be.
– Speaking more than one language leads to better academic results – their brain has a different set of analytical and multitasking skills that have grown as they swap between two languages
– Children will have a better sense of self-worth, identity and belonging
– Having more than one language as adults leads to new study opportunities and travel opportunities.
– Learning your mother tongue language allows your child to connect and communicate with extended family in a different way
If you are still not convinced, here is what the science says:
– Bilingual children who have a solid foundation in their native language learn the majority language more easily and do better at school than children who aren’t learning their native language at home
– Language skills learnt in one language can be easily transferred to another language
– They have a better understanding of the relationship between how words look and sound than their peers who speak only one language
– Bilingual children develop language at the same rate as children who speak one language only – learning and using two languages doesn’t slow this process
How doe the two language thing work?
You have some options:
– If you and your partner speak different languages – use one language for one person (e.g. dad speaks French with the children and mum speaks Arabic). The child can then learn English at school and from the community. This can also work if only one parent has another language, they use it, and the other uses English.
– If both parents speak a language other than English – use this as the primary
language at home. For example, if both parents are from South Africa, in the house speak Africans and then let school or the community be the place that English is used.
– Use language how it naturally fits in your families lives, have a balance of both languages and show your child that you value both equally.