Smart Baby Seminar 2016
Tips and tricks about how you can best nurture your child’s development with bilingualism
On 27 February, we had the chance to attend the Smart Baby Seminar organised by Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Held at the Lecture Theatre at Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, 4 guest speakers were invited to share their insights and knowledge about their topics of choice.
Parents had the chance to find out more about raising bilingual children, especially in Singapore's society where most of us grow up learning how to speak English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil, and even certain dialects.
Here are some of the highlights from the event that would benefit you and your child:
Will my baby know how to differentiate between the two languages that we are speaking? How would they be able to know which is which?
Dr Leher Singh, developmental psychologist at the National University of Singapore says, "Bilingual children don't get confused. A really interesting finding from researchers at University of British Columbia showing that bilingual children whose mother spoke two languages while they were pregnant, can tell these two languages apart in a few hours after birth. So that adds a very strong starting point to bilingualism."
As you know, Singaporeans tend to speak Singlish a lot as compared to English. Does it count as two languages? Will my child be able to tell the difference between these two and know when to switch?
Dr Singh: "I don't know if there has been any research in Singapore, but there has been research in other countries looking at two dialects. So children aren't threatened by that, and they can often become diagnostic where they can go between the two dialects very easily. There's no evidence that having multi-dialectical exposure is harmful for a child's first language acquisition."
How do I talk to a bilingual child?
- Talk rather than teach. Children tend to listen and follow by examples, and are more willing to take in information by hearing their parents talk.
- Measures of progress should be based on proficiency in each language. It is best not to judge them based on how well they can speak both languages, but how well they have progressed in each language.
- Do not focus on translation. We are all guilty of asking our kids, "How do you say 'bathe' in Chinese?" and then hoping that they would be able to do a direct translation on the word. This, according to Dr Singh, does not help with the child's ability to pick up the language, but would make them feel as though it's a 'chore'.
As bilingual learners benefit from more conversational partners in each language, Dr Singh encourages parents to talk to their children in the different languages instead of merely teaching it to them. This is especially important in today's context as many Singaporeans are bilingual and our children are picking up this skill as well.
Parents, what are some of the ways in which you help your child to pick up bilingualism?