The Big Debate – When to begin a second language
A few days ago I spoke to an old friend of mine. He has a three year old, about 9 months older than the babe. And it was amazing how we had some of the same ‘Big Issues’ or concerns regarding our kids.
The first was – when do we introduce a second language, and which language should that be? Now we have had some blogs on this site before on introducing second languages. Basically for some of us, English is not our ‘mother tongue’ or our first language. Mine is Bangla and his was Hindi. To complicate the situation further, in my case, my husband does not speak Bangla, so we do actually use English to speak to each other at home.
There are pros and cons to introducing English first and then following up with our own language.
Pros for going English first:
- Most books, toys, kids CDs are in English
- It makes it easier for the child when he or she joins pre-school or daycare
- The child is less shy in an outside environment as he or she understands the spoken language
Pros for going with your language first:
- I have heard this again and again from moms whose kids are fluent it a second language – ‘English they will learn anyway once they go to school’
- If they have siblings who speak English, they tend to learn that in parallel anyway
- While the kids is at home, you have a more controlled environment to introduce a language which he or she can learn to speak like a native.
- Its easier for them to communicate with relatives back at home or grandparents who come to visit and cousins, specially since many grandparents are not as fluent in English. Since grand parents and aunts and cousins live most of the year in a different country, knowing the language makes bonding quicker
- It makes them closer to our culure – this one is debatable
Most moms I know have gone the route of mother tongue first. Some even delayed preschool to teach the language. And most admit that once school begin, sibling interactions switch to English and they seem to prefer it that way.
But if, like me, you started with English, hope is certainly not all lost! If you begin around or before 3, research shows that kids can pick up other languages like a native.
Here is what my friend said he did, with success, in a period of nine months –
- Switch at home to speaking in the new language to the child. Respond to his queries in the new language even if it he asks them in English
- Plan a trip back home or spend some time with family. This makes them understand theres a whole world out there speaking a different language
- Ask family members back home, specially cousins to speak to the child in the new language. This makes the child think, in his words, that this new language is ‘cool’ and spoken by kids
- Keep it up!
And if he reads it, I want him to correct or add more. He mentioned that she learned to understand the language very well first and then speak.
For me, the trip back home was really good to get the babe going on understanding the language. He understands it fully and uses words. Only problem is, now he uses these words with his English speaking friends, which he has plenty.
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