When you speak more than one language, children give preference to the dominant language. What if there are a few languages spoken, what then? How can you help a child learn a minority language?
My family is multilingual. My eldest speaks four languages in varying degree of proficiency although he is only 8years old. He is still a child, but I am confident that I have put him on the right path to loving languages. My almost 4 year old is already bilingual but since she started kindergarten this past year, she has been introduced to a third language, Arabic. My two year old although still learning to speak is, I am happy to say, picking up both Urdu and English quite well. All three of my children sing in four languages though. I believe most of it is due to the fact that my husband and I are always trying hard to build an environment of learning languages in our home.
It is not very difficult to teach children to speak more than one language. My experience has taught me that it is all about practice and promoting. If you promote it to your child, they will have the opportunity. If you help them practice, they will learn faster.
But, what about when you have a minority language? How do you promote or practice that?
Minority language, is in my definition the language that isn’t spoken by many around you but it could be either your mother tongue or a language that you are trying to promote to your child. A good example is second or third languages at school.
In our case, it has been French. My family speaks Urdu and English. Living in an Arab country means Arabic is the regional language here and the kids are learning it from friends, neighbours and books but French is really minority. We only read it from books or the DVDs that come with the syllabus. My husband and I don’t speak French at all but my son can. There are no friends around for him to converse with in this language. It is really difficult for him to practice it. His exposure is only what he practices at school.
I’d like to share today one tip that is helping me promote this language to my child.
Teaching Children to Speak a Minority Language
His French books came with a set of DVDs to help practice his language skills. They are basically his lessons with extra exercises and conversations. There are also some songs. I make him watch one complete hour of French as a lesson. Yes, I am talking about technology. I must confess that it isn’t everyday that we do this but it is as often as we can. Which usually means the days he has homework in French.
All three of my kids watch it together. Now this is important: Don’t let them watch alone. Watch it together with them or involve someone else with them. Usually, I sit with them but sometimes, I let them watch while I am working. When the toddlers (aged 2 and 3) are watching, they love repeating the words too. My son 8years old thinks he is their teacher so he tries to help them. For the whole time that they are watching, they enjoy speaking and conversing in French.
Of course, since my toddler is still small and my preschooler hasn’t started French at school, they don’t speak much but while watching these videos, they try hard to pick up the language and ‘play along’. For the little ones, it is just playtime.
I know it may seem like it isn’t much of a way but I have seen the effect it has had on my son’s efforts to learn. We usually follow the dvd session up with more videos from YouTube if it gets boring. (You see, I try to focus on one whole hour of lesson.) I use this method to teach my kids the other languages too but since we already speak those languages and they are learning it elsewhere, we can give this method the whole credit for learning those languages. My kids are speaking french due to this tip though.
If you are trying to teach a child to speak a minority language then I highly recommend you show them videos like these too. Whatever language you are focusing on, show your child poems, conversations, cartoons or mini documentaries in that language. It will help speed up their learning. For the whole hour that you are teaching them, if you can do it too, try to only speak in that language yourself. Even if you cannot, play around and enjoy the session together with them so that they can enjoy it even more and look forward to this fun hour with their parent.
If you have some experience teaching your children/child multiple languages, please do share your tip in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.