How to impart multilingual skills to your child!
India is diverse. We have more languages on our currency note than any other country in the world. We have 17 languages on that small little piece of paper that we handle every day, for our daily requirements! While mastering 17 languages might be a tall order for anyone, it also means that we have the opportunity to master or at least be comfortable in more than just one. While learning a language might not require a significant effort for children already in a multilingual environment, we as parents can still help and be more supportive. Often language skills are left to be developed during formal schooling.
Why is it good to know more than one language?
Apart from the obvious reason of being able to converse in more than one language, communicate in them, being multilingual has many other advantages.
It improves brain function - The way our brains process information changes when we know more than one language. Learning languages stimulates our brain cells and connections, making the brain more robust and strong.
Adults can learn languages to keep their brain function better and stave off issues like Alzheimer's disease.
It makes traveling more fun and exciting - Yes, knowing a local language is a great advantage when traveling.
It opens up the world for work and leisure. - Imagine all the books you can read, the jobs that you can apply for in different countries or just communicate with more people - when you know more languages.
What can we do to be more supportive of multilingual development?
- Provide constant input in different languages you wish them to learn- “Feed” the ears and eyes of your child with aural, visual, and written language resources. Often with young children, we may speak the language, but we do not expose them to other forms of it. We do not read to them in those other languages. We do not sing to them or expose them to the alphabet of that language.
- Do not overdo it – Now this is the exact opposite of what we said before, but there can be too much of a good thing. There is no reason to learn all 17 languages at one go. Do not force the child to learn and be perfect at all languages simultaneously. If you try too hard, he may lose interest in all of them, and your effort may be counterproductive. Remember that just like overfeeding can result in nutrients not being absorbed, or in obesity, overfeeding languages might have similar results.
- Use all resources available – Songs, poems, books, neighbors and grandparents are all resources in this effort. Encourage your child to speak with as many people as possible. Do not step in and correct them immediately or say that they dot understand. It is ok to stumble but let your child listen to neighbors and speak with others who will also help them learn a language. At the same time, it's not the best idea to force the child to talk in a particular language in a gathering or publicly till they are confident, just to show that they can. It might just cause more inhibition.
- Alternatively OPOL – One parent one language. In case you live in a place where you do not have access to other grownups or language speakers, you can make it a policy to speak in one language with your child. This often works in bi-lingual marriages, where each one brings their native language to add to the child’s skill set. While mom speaks in one, dad speaks in another, making the child bi-lingual at the very least.
- Be patient – Anything worth doing well takes time. Also, each child learns at their own pace. Have patience, and keep going. That is often the advice we give our children, and we must practice what we preach.
- Be playful – We love this one as it resonates wholeheartedly with our philosophy. Play lets children learn and practice what they learn in a non–pressured, calm atmosphere. So, be playful. Let that inner child within you out. Have fun with the language and your child. It makes for the best memories and learning.
- Try activities. A classroom setting is pretty boring for young and restless kids. Let them run, jump, hop, and skip and speak the language at the same time. It’s a great way to have fun (It is our favorite mantra) and also learn something and retain that information.
There are many opportunities to teach your child more than one language, and you will adopt your methods as the learning evolves. However, the tried and tested traditional methods are a great way to start and also fall back upon. Reading, singing, playing are all the best ways for little kids to learn anything.
If you have a multilingual family, do share with us how you are teaching your children to speak more than one language. Happy parenting!