5 Great Ways to Raise Multilingual Kids
In India, almost every kid grows up learning two languages – English and their vernacular language. Turns out this is actually great, because research says multilingual kids are more creative! Kids who speak more than one language tend to have better cognitive abilities and also keep their brains sharp well into adulthood.
As one early educator explains, children have an unlimited capacity to learn. When they’re exposed to multiple languages, the may not know that these languages are different. Instead, they simply store words from different languages in separate ‘compartments’ of the brain. When spoken to in a certain language, they immediately respond by ‘opening’ that specific language compartment. It is only when they grow older, that this instinctive knowledge translates into awareness that these are all different languages.
So are these benefits limited only to learning certain languages?
The process of learning a language is the same, from English to Hindi, Punjabi and even the seemingly difficult south Indian languages such as Tamil and Malayalam. The key is to expose the child to more than one language, in an environment where the conversations happen naturally. For example, having a nanny who speaks a different language always helps them learn faster than a bunch of rhyme based videos in the same language.
Since learning languages is so much simpler at this age, it also makes sense to introduce languages such as French and Spanish to them in a very conversational manner. There’s reason to believe that it isn’t education but a skill that will define the next generation of employable people.
Una Halligan, chair of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) in this 2015 article has shared the importance of languages, including other disciplines such as surveying and architecture having a healthy prognosis for future careers. With so many young adults choosing to go abroad for their studies and work, especially to countries in the European Union, learning a widely understood language such as French can help them have an edge.
So how do we encourage kids to become multilingual and consciously foster an environment that supports this endeavor?
1. LEARNING BEGINS AT HOME
If you and your partner speak more than one language, make it a habit to interact with the child in them and several other related ones. This may seem like a no-brainer but so many parents prefer that their child learn English (which they will in school anyway) at the cost of ignoring all the others, especially their own vernacular language. Interactions with children are often limited to one language only even though their grasping capacity is so much more.
2. DON’T BE IN A HURRY
Kids do not learn any language before the age of one. Language is a higher skill and at that age children are still understanding facial expressions and testing new skills. There’s no point in overwhelming them with a variety of languages, except to familiarize them with the lilt and the tone. It is better to wait till they are older and more importantly, absorb it in their own time and of their own free will.
3. GROW A VILLAGE AROUND YOU
……a village that speaks more than one language. The onus is on you to encourage interactions with neighbors, peers who speak a different language and helpers. Let people know that you want to your child to be exposed to a multitude of languages and encourage children to be receptive to it too.
4. PROFESSIONAL APPROACH
There’s no denying the fact, that sometimes a structured environment helps kids learn better. Having them join a language class can be very beneficial. Keep in mind that these classes shouldn’t jump right into grammar and phrasing, but instead focus on an intuitive learning of the language from scratch. This includes how words are produced, developing a ear for the language and then graduating into more.
5. STOP, IF CHILD ISN’T READY
Some kids may not like languages as much. It could also be that they have days where they don’t want to be involved with your efforts, to teach them a language. In such cases, or on such days, take a step back. Use the time to evaluate the child’s interests and guide them accordingly.
Parenting as a whole is easier said than done. There’s no denying the fact that kids lose interest quite quickly. Holding yourself responsible or being hard on yourself will not serve the purpose. It is always better to strive to improve the child’s natural ability as opposed to forcing them to be involved in everything. If you see multilingualism as a possibility that your child may enjoy, go for it. If not, just let them be.