Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Help Your Child Learn Languages in 3 Easy Steps

So you want your child to be able to speak more than one language? And fluently?

Here's how to do it in 3 easy steps. Ok, step 1 is not so easy.

1. Live Multilingual

Do you and your partner share the same native tongue? No? Brilliant!

One of the two best ways to teach multiple languages to a child is called "one parent one language" or OPOL. The idea is that each parent speaks his native language exclusively and so the child is able to pick it up with all it's facets and subtleties.

This works even before the child knows what a language is, because it can easily see the difference between the two parents. What I call "German", Lilia refers to as "How papa speaks".

Do you live abroad? Yes? Good!

If you live in a place where the common language is not yours, you can follow the other good approach, called "minority language at home" or ML@H. For this to work, the parents speak one language at home, while everyone else speaks another one.

2. Start Early

There is no point waiting! A baby's brain is really good at soaking up information, and the sooner you start feeding it with languages to assimilate, the easier it will be.

You could think of the brain as a framework able to process any kind of language. Once it starts to learn one, some things get "hard coded", and those might later get in the way of learning another language. So, hearing multiple languages right from the start helps keep the brain flexible and ready for more.

3. Don't Worry

From people who repeat the same old worrysome myths ("she will NEVER speak properly!") to nagging thoughts about vocabulary, there will always be occasion to worry.

For example, your child might decide not to speak your language. But there's really no need to worry too much. Chances are it will as soon as you spend some time in a place where that language is used.

In our family, we do a mixture of OPOL and ML@H: I speak German, Souad speaks "Algerian" (a mixture of Arabic and French). And because we're in England, everybody else speaks English.

Is Lilia able to cope with 4 different languages? As far as we can tell so far, she has no problem keeping up. And really, with everything a child has to learn, one language more or less does not make that much of a difference anyway, does it?