When being good becomes being great
Being Singaporeans, most of our kids are already capable of at least speaking two languages – English and another one, depending on our ethnicity. Being bilingual is definitely a good thing, but why settle for good when your kid can learn more than two languages and become great instead?
Just think about the advantages that multilingualism could bring. Aside of taking away the fear of being conned out of your money and passport while travelling abroad, it can also help your kid once they enter school.
The Centre for Applied Linguistics (CAL) says that being multilingual improves school performance and increases overall problem-solving skills. They also report that research suggests bilingual children are more creative than monolingual speakers and score higher on standardized tests.
So if bilingual children are “more creative”, then there is a possibility that your (future) multilingual kid could just be the next…J.K Rowling perhaps?
Can we say, “ka ching” in seven different languages please?
Travelling further into the future; being multilingual is a plus on both college admission applications as well as job applications. Knowing you are raising a future doctor is a reward in itself, but knowing that you are raising a future doctor that will be able to save lives in seven different countries because they are able to speak all the required languages…is totally a bragging right?
But when should you start teaching your kid that third language?
Apparently…right around the time you are teaching them that first and second language too. A recent study conducted jointly between the University of British Columbia and the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona demonstrated that infants as young as 4 months old can distinguish between different languages.
Babies raised in monolingual households lost this ability by the eight month, while bilingual households did not. This study demonstrates the importance in starting exposure to another language early in life. But it you haven’t…don’t fear. It is never too late to start.
Addressing a common misconception among parents, CAL said that mixing two or more languages in a sentence does not bring about language confusion. Further research has shown that language development in infants and toddlers who learn another language is not slowed, but in fact, improved.
Other studies suggest substituting one language for another while developing their ability to talk is simply a matter of remembering the word for something in one language and not the other. Multilingual children don’t learn fewer words as a result of having three languages, but rather they are learning the same number of words just in three separate languages.
Let’s get the lingo on!
So what can you do if you want to raise a multilingual child, but only speak two languages yourself? The best and easiest way for a child to learn a language, whether it is their third or fourth, is immersion.
Make sure that your kid is put in the environment where that particular language is used frequently. If you want your child to learn a language that is spoken by other members of your family, say your mother-in-law speaks the language you desire, ask those family members who speak the language to assist in teaching your child.
Schedule regular visits with them, the more the better, and ask that they only speak to your child in the third language. This can also be done with other members of the community who speak that particular language you had your heart set on, or with a babysitter and/or nanny.
When your child gets old enough for play dates, you can try to find a group that speaks the language you are trying to teach your child. Let’s say if you are Chinese and only speak English and Mandarin, then why not a play date with a Malay schoolmate who speaks English and Malay? This way your kid will be able to pick up Malay (a.k.a that third language) while having fun!
Another option to increase exposure to a third language for very young children is to look for DVDs of children’s programs in that language or check to see if the DVDs you’re buying have language options. We suggest watching Dora the Explorer in Spanish; it is highly entertaining as well as educational.
As your kid ages, your methods will have to change but whatever it is, make sure that is creative and engaging for them. Do remember that starting at a young age can make a world of difference between a kid that struggles to make sense of another language and a future doctor that could save lives in seven different countries.
The choice is in your bilingual hands.
The brilliant ten-year-old girl who can speak ten languages
Raising bilingual children: The infant and toddler years