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How to Decide Which Language a Child Should Learn

by Mihaela Schwartz (follow)
Education (18)      Language (2)      Parental decisions (1)     
Due to growth in the number of expatriates, mixed couples and immigrants, children practicing several languages from an early age is on the increase, world over. While some time ago monolingual children were the general rule, nowadays an increasing number of bilingual and even trilingual children are encountered.

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How to Choose?

The choice of the first language is a major concern for many parents, who try to consider which one would be more useful to the child and which one would be easier to learn. However, recent specialised studies have shown that the best option, when parents have different mother tongues, is to make the child learn both of the languages at the same time. It does not mean that you will have to mix them into the conversation, because this approach is the worst mistake you can do under such circumstances.

Parents will worry that this approach could harm their child’s intellectual development and so often will decide to pick one language and then, wait until the child masters it in order to begin with the second one. Actually, they are totally wrong, as until the age of 6-7, kids learn things intuitively. It will be, therefore, be easier for them to assimilate the two languages before that age. When they older a different learning system develops and they will need to put a lot more efforts into this endeavor.

How to learn

There are several methods adopted by bilingual families trying to teach their kids both languages. Some use the “one day, one language” or “one week, one language” styles, allotting specific periods of time for each linguistic tool. This method can be applied only when both parents speak both languages. However, it may confuse children, especially at an early age.

The recommended method is generally called “one parent, one language”, especially when referring to a mixed couple. Moreover, when this type of couple is living in a different country, featured by a third linguistic system, the best option is not to worry about that state’s official language. You should first teach your children the two “mother” tongues as they will learn the language of the adopting country once they enroll in kindergarten.

Although it is advisable to stick to the chosen method, a certain degree of flexibility is required. The important thing is to place the focus on communication and on maintaining relational ties between each parent and the child. If the latter one refuses to answer in the desired language, it is either because he/she lacks motivation, or because they find it too difficult. But by continuing to speak that language, even in a passive way, you will give the child a chance to really be fluent in it one day.

No matter which method you choose, you should, first of all, try to avoid rigidity. Experts agree that, although confusion can appear as a consequence of bilingualism, mixing two languages in the same sentence is a linguistic normal behavior for a bilingual child. Using the grammar of a language to express themselves in another is a natural act. It was not until the age of 6 that parents should start worrying if the child continues to mix the two languages.

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