Is language a barrier for children?

Excerpts from “Raising Successful Bilingual Children”
by Susan Stewart, Head of Mother Tongue, International School of London, Surrey campus

Is your child bilingual…or trilingual? Have you lived in a number of different countries?  Do you know where you might be living in 10 years’ time?   Is your child mixing English and your home language? Does your child refuse to speak in your home language?  Are you worried about the effect this might have on them?

These are common questions for expats and multilingual families. Most parents struggling with the day-to-day issues of raising a multi-lingual child are unlikely to ask where they want their child to be in the future, yet this is precisely the starting point for most decisions about raising successful bilingual children.

Before looking at a few guidelines, however, there are some fundamentals in speaking and learning about languages which should be outlined.  First, there are two ways to learn languages:  through acquisition, the unconscious way we all learn languages as children; and through learning, the conscious and structured approach taken in learning a language other than your home language.  An acquired language is never forgotten.  A child who has acquired two languages – learnt one at home and another at school – is well on the way towards becoming a balanced bilingual, a child equally comfortable in both languages, socially, academically and, in the future, professionally.

There are many advantages to being bilingual, both professionally and socially.  There are cognitive benefits as well.  Current brain research shows that children learning two languages show more neural activity in the parts of the brain associated with language processing.  But raising a bilingual child is not always easy in families where the parents may speak different languages, or playmates may speak a different language from the home language.   Nonetheless, for parents who want their children to be balanced bilinguals, there are some basic guidelines to follow:

1.    Speak to your child in your language.
2.    Take your child back to your home country as often as possible.
3.    Have books, movies, magazines and games in your home language at home.
4.    Be proud of your language – your child will share in this.
5.    Be patient.  It takes time.

There are also a few “Don’ts” – pitfalls to avoid so as not to compromise your child’s progress.

For these, and to read the complete article, click here.