In today’s increasingly multicultural world, many children hear two or more languages being spoken on a daily basis.
Studies have shown that early exposure to more than one language helps children outperform their peers in intellectual and communication skills, a fact that is relevant to the nation’s 8.5 million Hispanic families, many of whom have bilingual children. Children under the age of 5, in particular, can easily acquire two or more languages, especially if language is introduced in a productive home learning environment. So how can parents encourage development of two or more languages? Here are 10 tips for parents to promote multi-language learning in children:
1) Make sure the children hear all languages as often as possible inside and outside the home.
2) Parents should use the language they know best (usually their native language) with children.
3) If one parent chooses to speak more than one language to the children, consistency is important and the languages should be differentiated by specific usages (for example, one language in the house and the second in public). Switching to another language just to reprimand, for instance, can cause negative associations.
4) Parents should seek as many opportunities as possible to use the language and to discuss as many different types of topics as possible, and the child’s vocabulary will naturally expand.
5) Caregivers and grandparents can successfully introduce language to children, when given ample time to develop their language relationship with them.
6) Mixing of languages by children is common as they acquire vocabulary; parents should not criticize, but help them learn the appropriate words to complete sentences in one language.
7) Follow your intuition about your child’s progress and talk to your doctor if you feel your child is not progressing as he/she should, to eliminate hearing loss or other developmental issues. Language development varies amongst children, and learning multiple languages may slow verbal development, but not significantly.
8) Developing a social environment outside of home that supports the language, such a playgroup with other children who speak the same languages, will provide additional language reinforcement as well as invaluable interpersonal communication skills.
9) Understanding the native language of one’s parents and caregivers is an important part of children’s cultural heritage and sense of community. Parents should look for ways to reinforce the cultural aspects of their heritage, which will in turn enrich their language development.
10) A supportive and varied language-learning environment, including books, music, and videos, will help children develop their language skills more fully. There are many companies that offer language learning products. For example, Cantarima (www.cantarima.com) has bilingual videos and music CDs which offer fun and educational learning, as children sing along to traditional kid songs in Spanish and English. The key to making learning fun is to look for a variety of language products that are suitable to your children’s age and interest.