Many of our native languages are getting lost in urban India. As nuclear families and the workplace both encourage conversations in English, we often hear parents wondering how they can help their children acquire other languages.
Children are able to absorb language from their environment and easily learn how to speak, read and write if language in its various forms is present in their environment during the period of the Absorbent Mind (Montessori, 1949).
All of us would have observed how easily young children acquire language and build vocabulary. Children are born with an inbuilt inclination to imbibe language and communicate with others. From birth until the age of three, children unconsciously take in stimuli from their environment and shape themselves according to what they are exposed to. Language, too, seems to develop intuitively – the child is born with the ‘inctinct to decipher and acquire the language of their chulture’ (Chomsky, 2000).
A child, therefore, has the best chance of becoming bilingual if they are introduced to additional languages as early as possible, during this sensitive period for language development. Further, unlike adults, who may have difficulty learning a second language, or say that one language is more difficult than another, a child in the sensitive period for language acquisition acquires multiple languages at the same time with equal ease.
Here are some of the most important things you can do to support your child acquiring a second language at home:
* Everyday phrases like “hello” and “goodbye” can be easily incorporated into the child’s day. Other repetitive commands like “come,” “go,” “give,” can also be introduced; first in a language the child is comfortable with and then repeated in the target language which you wish the child to acquire.
* Songs and poetry are another way to get children excited about speaking a new language. Daily repetition of these provide much needed practice.
* The mind remembers what the hand does. By incorporating movement into your multi-lingual instructions, you allow children to act out verbs like jump, run, skip, dance, sit, etc. The next step would be to add adjectives and adverbs for variety (“Jump quickly,” “Jump quietly,” etc.) Prepositions can add to the fun: “Jump quietly around the green chair,” and so on. This way, words are being layered on in a new language, in context; and the physical movemements will help solidify the words in the child’s memory.
* Most importantly, for the best results, remember not to restrict language learning to a specific time or class. The best way for a child to learn a new language is if its alive in their environment, and they can hear it constantly. Let them hear conversations with rich vocabulary in different languages. Research shows the television is an unacceptable substitute for in-person learning, because children acquire language when they are engaged in a two-way conversation.
It may take time and consistency, but we are confident your children will soon start responding to you in different languages!