5 ways to encourage bilingualism at home
At Swiss International School Dubai, we believe that being “international” means opening one’s mind to other cultures and different ways of thinking. We are living in a world where English looks set to remain the lingua franca, but where being able to speak, read and write in only one language is no longer enough.
In response, we have created a unique environment where children from all over the world can live and thrive in a multilingual and multicultural environment. Our students are uniquely privileged to be learning the skills and aptitudes required to prosper in a perpetually changing world, as a fundamental part of their education.
SISD is first and foremost an international community where students, teachers and staff from all over the world work, live and prosper together. Well over 60 nationalities are represented on campus, which creates an exceptional mix of languages, cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Our approach to learning encourages creativity, problem-solving and good decision-making.
In this article, we aim to summarize what makes bilingualism so appealing, and how it can be managed and cultivated at home for an optimal experience for your child.
Facts and myths
Bilingualism confers a variety of proven benefits for children. In previous blog posts, we’ve noted that bilingual students have improved executive function, better working memory and cognitive flexibility, and even perform better in school. They’re also more adaptable, and are thought to be better at problem-solving.
One popular myth about raising a bilingual child is that exposing children to more than one language will result in developmental delays or speech disorders. This idea is not supported by the research, and we find that many countries – indeed, more than half the world population – already raise their children in bilingual or even multilingual environments. We find nothing but benefits to building a bilingual learning environment for children.
Tips for bilingualism
To get the most out of bilingualism at home, here are some top tips for parents.
Provide exposure to your child’s second language
Both parents may not be necessarily fluent in their child’s second language, but it’s important for the child to receive as much exposure as possible to help immerse them in the learning experience. For non-native speakers, the exposure to the additional language should be approx. 40% in order to progress adequately, i.e. to acquire basic interpersonal communicative skills within six months to two years and cognitive academic language proficiency within four to seven years.
Watch movies or TV in the second language, and keep literature such as books and magazines around the house which is written in that language.
Outside of the school, look for activities and workshops which will allow your child to be in contact with native-speakers (e.g. activities offered by Alliance Française, Goethe Institut, etc.). Depending on how old your child is, language camps during the school holidays can be a valuable opportunity to develop language skills in a fun environment.
Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai also organises Language Camps during the school holidays open to SISD and non-SISD students.
Correct their mistakes if you can, but not harshly
If you’re helping your child learn a language at home, correct them without making it too oppressive, lest they become afraid to speak the language. Don’t outright call them out for being wrong, but rather rephrase what they say in the correct way, to help them recognize their mistakes, exactly like you do while helping the child develop their mother tongue.
While your child might be already taking language classes at school, it’s also important to have goals for their functional literacy. Whether you want your child to be able to speak fluently, or to be able to read and write at the level of a native speaker, or just would like for them to be able to ask for directions in a foreign country, ensure that you work alongside your child and cooperate in your efforts towards these specific goals. This include a participation to the language homework: don’t do the homework for your child, but show interest in what they are doing, e.g. ask for explanations. Do not expect your child to be able to translate everything from one language to the other one. Instead, encourage “translanguaging”, i.e. the use of the mother tongue in the additional language. If you know the “missing” words in the additional language, gently rephrase while using them. The goal is to improve your child’s self-confidence in speaking in another language as their mother tongue.
Everyone adopts languages at different rates, and it may be difficult if you feel that your child doesn’t seem to be getting it at the pace you’d like. But like all things, it’s a gradual process that requires exposure, effort, and motivation on both the parts of the parents and the child. Stay the course – the benefits will be undeniable.
As mentioned above, for non-native speakers exposed to an additional language (40%), the basic interpersonal communicative skills will develop within six months to two years and cognitive academic language proficiency within four to seven years.
Learning anything is best when it’s engaging, fun, and doesn’t feel like work. Don’t just make it a question of textbooks and tests, but also try to bring in reading for fun, playing games, or solving puzzles and riddles in the second language
Watch our Grade 8F1 Students explain these french expressions.