Part 1: Introduction
In today’s globally transient world, many children are exposed to multiple languages from birth and parents may well wonder how best to support the language development of their children. Some families may be comprised of parents whose native languages are not the same. Mom may have been born and raised in France and although she speaks English, her “heart language” is French, while Dad speaks English exclusively. Other families find themselves living in places where the language of the greater environment differs from the language spoken at home. An IKEA executive is transferred from her home in Sweden to China and brings her family along, enrolling the children in an English speaking international school. Parents in situations such as these may wonder how to best support their children in acquiring language, particularly when the children reach school age and begin to learn to read.
Research on multilingual language and literacy acquisition is ongoing and proves itself to be an exciting field of new discoveries. Neuroscientists, psychologists and educators all share an interest in gaining a more comprehensive understanding of how languages are learned and how to best support and enhance language and literacy. It can be confusing and challenging to keep up with all the advances in scientific findings and yet parents need access to this relevant information.
Research suggests that engaging in responsive interactions rich in meaningful conversations, questions and answers while engaging in interesting experiences in any language is paramount in a child’s language development. Reading aloud, singing and playing word games support verbal interactions in any language. When children are exposed to more than one language within the context of responsive interactions on a regular basis, their language learning and brain development is enhanced whether the language exposure is equal or one is stronger than the other. Due to the malleability of the brain, children (and adults) have the ability to learn new labels, or words in other languages, for concepts they already understand.
When making decisions about their child’s language exposure and learning, each family must consider their particular language goals and priorities. Parents may ask themselves which language they can best express themselves in and freely share thoughts and ideas with their children in before determining which language to use when interacting with their child. Exposure to multiple languages is beneficial to children, but there is no deadline to learning a new language. Additional languages can be acquired at any age, provided that the first language(s) a child has give her a solid base of knowledge and understanding from which to start learning a new one.
Psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner once said
“…in order to develop normally, a child requires progressively more complex joint activity with one or more adults who have an irrational emotional relationship with a child. Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid. That’s number one. First, last and always.”