Google+ Authentic Parenting: Monolingual Parents, Multilingual Children? (rerun)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Monolingual Parents, Multilingual Children? (rerun)

If you're a multilingual family, it's not a big step to raise multilingual children. It's just a matter of who speaks what to whom and staying consistent (which can be quite demanding when you're a minority speaker). If you and your partner are monolingual however, it might seem a lot more difficult. It might seem almost impossible for your child to grow up speaking different languages from a young age.
There are some easy ways to infuse other languages into your child's life.


  • Buy songs and rhyme CD's in a different language
  • Let your child watch TV in another language (most DVD have several language options, why not try them out
  • If affordable, go on holiday abroad, and don't just stay inside the resort
  • If you have native speakers over, ask them to speak their language to your child (they will understand more easily then you do)
  • Find a foreign au pair and have her speak her language to your child
  • Learn a new language together and use it (EG you learn Spanish together and use it to order paella at your local Spanish restaurant)
These are just a few examples, but I bet you can come up with many more. Your child may not become fluent in these languages, but they will pick up one or two things. I think hat's most important is to have a language infusion form a young age. To come into contact with a lot of different sounds and grammatical structures, because subconsciously, it does stick, and when they get older, if required, they will pick up new languages with greater ease. 



Image: LivingOS on Flickr


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4 comments:

  1. I've just finished reading Nurture Shock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. (http://www.amazon.com/NurtureShock-New-Thinking-About-Children/dp/0446504122)

    In their chapter about why baby DVDs don't work (ie baby Einstein etc) they explain how research has shown that babies need a face to look at while they hear a language spoken, whether that language is their own or another. Playing a DVD or CD of nursery rhymes in a foreign language will not help your child learn that other language. Babies do a certain amount of lip reading which helps them distinguish when one word ends and a new one begins. They can't do this when listening to a CD or watching a DVD where the video is unrelated to the audio.
    Interestingly research has shown that babies as young as 9 months can spend as little as 20 mins a day with a person who speaks a different language. After a very short amount of time (I think about a week but don't quote me!) babies will show recognition for the sounds/phonemes of that language to the same degree as the babies who have been immersed in that language since birth!
    Fascinating book- definitely worth a read!

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  2. Tami,
    I had been meaning to get back to you on this.
    I am actually not such a supporter of tv. However, if they ask for it, I see no need to refuse.
    We tried to avoid TV until the age of three (before that they have little or no understanding of it and cannot understand the full action.
    However, my daughter was introduced to cartoons at about 2y and we follow her in that now.

    Indeed, I don't think small toddler will learn much from listening to music in a foreign language or watching tv in a foreign language. I am absolutely not trying to say that when you expose your child to media in another language, they will become fluent in it. However, they will get infused with other phonetics, phrase structures etc, which I do think is beneficial.
    Getting fluent in a language can only happen by conversating in that given language.

    Another little thing I would like to add is that for older children, media can be a good way to expand vocabulary. And this I know from experience.


    I wrote this post because a lot of monolingual parents who do not often come into contact with other languages worry about this, and I do think - in that case - it is interesting to confront your child with the existance of other languages. Even if he does not learn them in this way.

    Eager to see your response

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  3. Just a few thoughts on this, I am teacher certified in bilingual elementary education with a fascination language learning. I was raised multi-lingual (bilingual English and Spanish at home, French and Portuguese outside), we lived near in France near the German border and would occasionally take day trips there. I was between the ages of 3 and 7, a ripe age for language acquisition. I never learned or studied German, however, as a college student I went to Germany to visit a friend who was studying abroad there and when he and a German friend were speaking German between them I was able to get enough of what they were saying to respond to the topic in English. It surprised all three of us that I was able to understand any of what they were saying at all. The only way I can explain it is that I spent enough time around the German language as a child to have given me a "taste" which later helped as an adult.

    I'm not sure that listening to CDs or watching DVDs alone would do it, but repeated watching of a DVD in the target language AND exposure to people who spoke the language (either through play dates or travel) will definitely give children enough to get their brain "mapped out" for further language learning later in life.

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  4. My own experience is that my mum decided she would speak French (she is English) to me and I learned to read French at about the same time as I learned to read English. By the time I got to doing languages at school I was streets ahead and I had a really naturally sounding accent. I even did work experience in France through my school!
    My mum speaking and teaching me French has meant I have a really great grasp of languages in general and I plan on doing the same with my child. :)

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