Action Steps for Parents
Just as there is not one “correct” way to raise children, there is also no one “correct” way to introduce and nurture the learning of multiple languages for children. Each family has its own language circumstance, needs and priorities that must be taken into account. However, although there is no one size fits all approach to language learning, there are several guidelines and recommendations based on research and experience that can be taken into consideration when setting goals and implementing family language practices and supporting language development in multilingual settings.
Clarify your goals and be intentional and consistent. This point is particularly important for parents who are fluent in multiple languages themselves. One couple I know is comprised of one parent who is French and the other is Korean. Although each speaks a little of the other’s language, their shared common language is English. Needless to say, this couple had to have a serious talk about their preferred parameters and goals concerning their children’s language development. Should each parent speak their own language to the children as well as using English when they are all together? Which language(s) will the children be educated in? In what may seem like a complicated scenario, several potential outcomes are possible, but in order to be successful, the parents must plan ahead.
Identify the meaning and purpose of speaking and learning a particular language for your child(ren). Recognize that motivation is powerful force in learning language. Give your child opportunities to experience real world application of using the language(s) they are learning. Visit places where the language is spoken and develop relationships with people who communicate using the target language.
Enlist support of others through meaningful interactions by building a community. Seek out other families who also speak the same language(s) as your child. Organize playgroups and meet-ups that provide opportunities for your child to interact with peers in that language. Set up video calls with grandparents or others who live far away who can support your children’s language development by having conversations with them.
Enrich the language experience through reading, singing, or other media. Read books aloud. Listen to music and sing along at home or in the car. Play silly word games. Watch movies, DVDs and television shows in the target language. Talk about what you read, sing, play and see.
Maintain a solid language base. Choose one (or two) languages that will be the foundational language for your child. This language should ideally be the language your child’s primary caregiver can support and nurture. When children are provided with a rich language experience in one language, giving them an extensive receptive and productive vocabulary, they are better positioned to acquire an additional language later on. One strong language is better than multiple “broken” languages.
Make clear connections between the languages your child is learning. Help your child link the languages she is learning by explicitly talking about words and subject matter. Isolating labels and names for objects is beneficial for younger children. “Kenji-kun calls it ‘omisu,’ Eunice calls is ‘water,’ and we say ‘vann’.” Parents of older children may read books aloud in their home language that are read at school in the school language. Concepts and curriculum specific vocabulary words may be discussed and redefined at home to support what the child is learning at school. Communication between home and school is imperative to supporting the process of making clear connections on the children’s behalf.
Be sensitive and responsive to your child’s needs, abilities and levels of anxiety, stress and identity struggles regarding language and culture. Language learning is all about communication and relationship building and involves change and adaptation. Parents need to be aware of their children’s emotional development along with their language development and may need to be open to shifting priorities and goals.
Do you have questions and concerns about your child’s language development in one or multiple languages? Help and individualized support is available. Use this contact form and I will reach out to you to schedule a consultation session via skype.