At a recent talk on bringing up bilingual and multilingual children, a parent raised a question:
Quite the riddle to which there is no straightforward, or for that matter, right answer. Yet it is a problem that many globe-trotting parents, who are first generation expat kids themselves and are now in mixed marriages, face.
"I am Welsh and speak English and Welsh fluently. My wife is from China but grew up in France and Belgium so she speaks Chinese, French and Dutch at native language fluency. We cannot decide which languages to introduce to our son first?"
Eurovision singing contest for European language learners
Give your child a reason to learn a language
Chinese Language Immersion Programme
prioritise the right languages
- What would you say is the mother tongue or father tongue? Even if you, personally, are not able to narrow it down to two languages due to a complicated origin story, think about what language is commonly spoken by your extended families at gatherings. What are the one or two languages that will enable your child to understand, his/her heritage better and find some semblance of a sense of belonging within the family network, in spite of all the moving around the globe.
- Think about the dominant language in the community that you live in. What is the primary language spoken by the children at the playground? What is the language your child will need to know to be able to make sense of their environment and for functional use?
- Additionally, consider also the language that will be used as the language of instruction in the school you intend to send your child to eventually. While it might seem like this would be the same as the community language, this need not always be the case. For instance, an expat family living in China but sending their child to an English-medium school while having a completely different family language will need to think about how to help the child balance all three languages well. Being familiar with the language of instruction will definitely ease a child’s ability to get used to formals schooling years and assimilate well.
Learning Japanese through a tea ceremony
helping with language acquisitionThis then brings us to the question of how you can help your child with language acquisition. There is one thing that language teaching experts always emphasise: language learning does not begin and end with the classroom, textbooks, homework and formal practice.
Languages serve a social function; they are used for communication between people in social settings. Therefore, nothing will boost your child’s language abilities like giving them opportunities to use the language in social settings.
Looking for an international school that can partner with you in fostering your child's language skills? Visit our Open House to find out more!