Children develop a sense of awareness to the sounds in very early ages. Indeed, they are aware of the sounds in the womb when 6 or 7 months old and can actually react to sounds coming from outside the mother’s womb.
After birth, children start to make sense of these sounds. However,
since they have not begun to form and develop words communicate via gestures.
As they begin to do so, children combine gestures with words and this further allows them to develop two-word combinations. Essentially, gesturing enables a child to develop words (Iverson, 2005).
Children learn to speak in this way during infancy an later on they improve their speaking skills to use more complex forms of it.
In Canada, 11.9% of the population speaks a language other than English or French at home. In Toronto, 31% of the population speaks a language other than English or French at home( Lowry L., 2016)
In the United States, 21% of school-age children (between ages 5-17) speak a language other than English at home. Furthermore, this number is projected to increase in the coming years ( Lowry L., 2016).
Looking at this, we can say that bilingualism for children is originated in the home environment.
In this article, I am going to explain when and how bilingual education should be given to the children and if it is necessary at all.
Should Children Be Bilingual?
Teaching a foreign language to children is a source of pride for many families. In many schools and kindergartens, they even try to attract students by saying that they will teach foreign languages.
In some cases, bilingualism is compulsory. For example, the mother-tongue of the parents might be different from each other or the family may need to live in a foreign country and learn the language of that country.
Also, bilingualism has many benefits for children which can motivate you. Here are some benefits that bilingualism provides to children.
First of all, bilingualism can contribute to the children’s speaking, thinking and questioning skills. It makes them able to think more quickly.
Bilingualism improves children’s communication skills. Thus, it increases the self-confidence of children. Children can understand the words spoken in another language so that they can develop cooperation.
Finally, bilingualism contributes to the cognitive development of children such as supporting memory development. Children can remember words in a different language and keep a lot of information in their mind.
Bilingualism can enhance the performance of spatial tasks, cognitive flexibility, analytical strategies, and creative thinking, and promote skills of communication and thinking that fit the broader aims of education ( Yazıcı Z.,Genc B.¸ Ilter and Glover P., 2010).
When Should Children Learn the New Language?
As we know that each child’s age and developmental characteristics are different, there is no certain age for children to learn a second foreign language.
However, with the introduction of the mother tongue to children, they can start to learn a second language which refers to the age of 3.
Also, according to Steiner N., Hayes S., Parker S. (2009), by the age of 3, most children are aware that they are speaking different languages when they switch between them and can identify each language.
How to Raise a Bilingual Child?
Language development starts at an early age in children and there are some points that should be considered during the process. For example, parents must not be very persistent, oppressive, and instructive.
At the same time, children should use the mother tongue properly in order to learn another language. Accordingly, children learn the second language better if they have a higher level of mother-tongue competence
(Yazıcı Z., Genc B.¸ Ilter, and Glover P., 2010).
Here are 5 tips to raise a bilingual kid, which you should consider in order to be more successful in teaching.
1) Use Games to Teach the Second Language
Although generally acknowledged solely as a source of entertainment, games are the best learning tools for kids. Children can acquire many skills and show developmental progress through playing.
In the same way, children can learn a second language by playing. You can give the concepts of that language while playing.
When you are teaching a foreign language for your child, you should start from the easy to the hardest. For example, you can first teach simple concepts, colors, numbers, and shapes and then move on to more complex concepts.
When you teach these concepts, you have to make sure that your child is taught to play games. You can support it by singing in that language, rhyme, and opening cartoons. The most important way to learn a foreign language is to hear words spoken in that language.
Therefore, make your child exposed to that language as much as possible. For example, even when teaching colors, you can show that it is orange by mixing the red finger paint with the yellow finger paint.
Meanwhile, you can contribute to your child’s learning by saying the colors in foreign languages. You can also support your child’s language acquisition by an educational cartoon or a video in a foreign language. In this way, your child can learn the intended concepts more easily.
2) Provide Materials for Your Child for Bilingualism
You can provide a variety of materials such as toys to teach your child a second language which will also develop your child intellectually.
For example, when you use matching card games, you can teach your child the names of the objects on this card in the foreign language.
Namely, there may be various animal pictures on the matching card. You can use these educational cards to teach your child the
In addition, there are many other materials that teach the language. For example, you can support your child to be bilingual by using alphabet cards, wooden block concepts, and story cards.
Using materials to raise a bilingual child supports children’s development in many areas. For example, pretend play supports children’s social, emotional, physical and language development.
It can be used in some methods for preschool children, namely by showing, question-answer, drama, and role-playing, simulation, dual studies, and group works, pantomime and storytelling. These are more interesting methods for children to be bilingual.
3) Provide Your Children a Social Interaction
Another way to learn a second language is to interact socially in that language. Children need to utter words when learning a foreign language as it is very important to hear words from their own mouth for learning to be permanent.
Also, children should be able to hear this foreign language in a social environment which can be provided in many ways. For example, there are many institutions and schools providing foreign language courses for children. You can enroll your child to one of them to help them learn the language.
Bilingual education supports children’s personal development and assists a positive exchange between the two languages and cultures. It can also contribute to self-esteem and mutual respect.
There are also many groups, clubs or social pages that you can follow to meet foreign people. Finding children in the same age with your
Also, there are many foreign native caregivers. You can work with such a carer for your child and contribute to your child’s language development. In this way, your child can learn a language from someone in their native language.
It helps the child to repeat the word many times, to learn the word better and to keep it in its memory. At the same time, the words and sentences associated with a situation will facilitate the child’s language learning.
For example, when your child eats an apple, it is necessary to say the word in a foreign language and use it in a sentence. In this way, visual and auditory memory will be working together which helps your child to learn faster.
4) Make a Role Model to Support Your Child’s Bilingualism
It is very important that your child has someone supportive of him/her while learning another language. As children develop language skills, you must support and guide them by teaching new words.
Children are exposed to the second language as much as their mother tongue can learn both languages easily. Therefore, speaking a foreign language around your child will create an awareness of the
sounds of that language in the child.
Therefore, the child should be provided with the opportunity to use both languages. Variety of people and settings should be provided to the child which he/she can speak the language.
It would be beneficial for the child to hear both languages from different genders and different age groups. Parents should consider to create such differences.
When playing with parents, pretend games that involve acting as a housekeeper and a doctor make a great contribution to the child’s language development.
At the same time, the speeches of the family about the work they are
Parents who want to speed up the language development of their children can express the child’s sentence in different words.
For example, a child might say, “It’s a bird.” The family may need to support the child and say “this little gray sparrow”.
5) Introduce Your Child to Foreign Language Books
Books are the best way to teach children something new. Through books, children can learn many new concepts, observe different environments and gain different behaviors.
Especially in the preschool period, books are very important for children. Parents can use books to improve their children’s bilingualism.
Firstly, illiterate children interpret themselves by looking at pictures of books. We can offer children different cultures and different environments by taking books in different languages. So we can draw the attention of children more easily.
Parents can also develop emotional awareness for their children by reading these books to them. Reading books for at least 15 minutes a day makes very important contributions to children’s language development. This time may sound very little but it will be very effective.
You can also support your child by buying books in a foreign language. For example, when you give a book as a gift, it gives your child the impression that books are valuable.
You can also add a love of books to your child. You can aim to love books and take care of them. Finally, you may contribute to the library in your home.
As a result, language development starts at very early ages in children. During language development, the child can be bilingual. Families may need to support their children on this issue and offer them various opportunities.
The use of various games, activities, songs, videos, cartoons, and materials, especially for young children, makes it easy for them to be bilingual.
In order to contribute to children’s bilingualism, families may need to offer children a range of possibilities to become role models. For example, speaking to individuals of different age groups in a foreign language can help the child to understand words in a foreign language.
In addition, reading books in foreign languages to children will also contribute positively to children’s language development.
Iverson, J. M. & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2005). Gesture paves the way for language development. Psychological Science, 66, 367-371.
Lowry L., 2016) . Bilingualism in Young Children: Separating Fact from Fiction. Hanen Certified Speech-Language Pathologist.
Steiner, N., & Hayes, S. (2009). 7 steps to raising a bilingual child. New York. Pp.10-18.
Yazıcı, Z., Ilter, B. G., & Glover, P. (2010). How bilingual is bilingual? Mother-tongue proficiency and learning through a second language. International Journal of Early Years Education,18(3), 259-268. doi:10.1080/09669760.2010.521297