With the holiday season upon us I am always excited to see how different people celebrate. The month of December holds a variety of celebrations such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas, so it should be no wonder why this time of year highlights, not only the diverse communities we live in but the different cultures existing within the same households.
As a speech-language pathologist one of the most common questions I get from parents is in regards to learning multiple languages. More and more families are making the decision to expose their children to bilingualism and with this choice comes additional questions on how to approach this the best way.
So, with the holiday spirit inspiring me I would like to provide families with some answers to frequently asked questions regarding multiple language learning in children.
1) Should I speak my native language to my child even though it is not the majority language?
Yes! It is important to provide your child with the best language model while they are learning language. Even if your native language is not the majority language you should speak the language that is most comfortable for you. This will facilitate more natural communication interactions between you and your child, which is essential for language learning.
2) How many languages are too many for my child to learn?
This answer is not straightforward. Children are born with the ability to learn many languages from birth. However, in order for children to learn language they need consistent exposure to that language. Research shows that learning more than 4 languages at the same time makes it difficult to provide children with enough exposure and language learning opportunities.
3) Is there a right way to teach my child another language?
No! There is no right way to help a child become bilingual. Some choose to have each parent speak a different language to the child and some choose to expose children to immersion programs. The most important thing is that the adult provides a strong language model to the child during natural everyday interactions.
4) I didn’t start speaking another language to my child at birth? Can they still learn another language?
Absolutely! The first five years are the most critical for language development and research has found this to be the easiest time for children to learn multiple languages, however, it is possible for children over the age of 5 to learn another language and become bilingual.
6) Does learning another language cause a language delay?
No! There is no research evidence that learning multiple languages causes language delays. Children who are learning multiple languages may say first words on the later end of the normal range (no later than 15 months) compared to children learning one language. However parents should still expect bilingual children should to hit all their language milestones at age appropriate timelines.
Hopefully the answers to these questions puts parents’ minds at ease and helps to support families choosing to raise multilingual children. For more information parents can access the Multicultural Children’s Association at http://www.multilingualchildren.org/faq.html or send me specific questions directly.
I wish you all a happy and festive holiday season!