Why is it that some people just pick up languages quicker then others? It’s because they truly want to learn… Children don’t know that they want to learn another language and parents make that decision for them. However HOW a child is taught will influence their want to learn. This, together with their parents’ commitment and perseverance is what I like to call a labour of love…
I’m an “old” Dubai expat, brought up here by my English mother and Palestinian father. It was not an easy feat for my parents to bring us up bilingually even though (back in the day) Dubai was a multi-cultural city.
I remember my father’s family coming over and speaking to us in heavily accented English, “How arrrrrrr youuuuuuu?” and my mother answering back in broken Arabic, “Ihkioun bil Arabi.” It was very much a scene from Mind your Language!
As a parent, if you want your child to be multilingual then you have to be committed and willing to spend time on exposing and engage your children in the target language of your choice. The environment in which a language is introduced to a child has to work for them too, for babies and toddlers this is done mainly through play, songs, crafts, etc. This environment must create feelings of want and love and fun, because even if a child doesn’t yet understand the words being spoken they can read your facial expressions, they can feel your playfulness and absorb your love.
Fact is: the best time to learn languages is before the age of 6 years old. And how do you teach babies, toddlers and children up to six? Through play.
Here are a few points on why it’s important to offer your child that labour of love early on in life:
Looking at natural development
A baby/toddler and child builds their world by exploring, discovering, playing and having fun. Children love to learn and language is part of this whole process of natural and seemingly effortless learning. Children absorb language with super speed and persistence.
Looking at effort
It takes much more effort & motivation for children after learning only one language to then learn a second when they are older. Learning more than one language simultaneously is much, much easier for children. It’s natural for them to mimic sounds and words not only in their mother tongue but also in a second language at the same time. This has been proven in many studies.
Looking at the future
The workforce today has an increased demand for people who can speak foreign languages at a sophisticated level. This is not limited to the corporate world. Employers are looking for mechanics, social workers and medical professionals, etc. who bring with them language skills as well as their professional skills.
Looking at the brain
Speaking more than one language makes you “smarter”. Languages encourage your brain to problem solve and recognize different language systems.
Children before the age of 6 will never perceive learning another language as effort.
Speaking more than one language builds multitasking skills. My six year old will, without thinking, translate to me what his father just said in Norwegian.
Speaking more than one language improves your memory. Yes, the brain is a muscle so the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. My four year old will point at something and say, “What is this word in Norwegian?” When I answer, he says, “Ah yes, like this word in Arabic!” His retention of all these different words is so natural to him.
Don’t wait to offer your child this labour of love. If you want your child exposed to other languages, including their mother tongue, you need to start early. Start from babyhood, get involved in your community, make it your 2015 resolution and take action. Give them the gift of language now, wrapped as a positive and fun experience rather than waiting for them to make that extra effort in the traditional sense later in life. I guarantee: your child will thank you for this gift later.