The first time when I had to mention my child’s mother tongue in his school form, I was tad-bit confused. Now, in a multi-lingual household like ours, which one is exactly his mother tongue? Without much pondering, I wrote Bengali/Malayalam. But truth be told, my son speaks Hindi and English, a little better than Bengali or Malayalam. And what's more interesting is my children communicate with each other in Tamil!
We are Multi-Linguists!
Marrying a Keralite and living in places like Coimbatore and Ahmedabad, my children are exposed to multiple languages ( such as Bengali, Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil, English and Gujarati) and I must say, they are managing it pretty well. My friends and relatives are quite curious about my kids’ language preferences and keep asking, which language are they picking up easily. My parents request me to teach them Bengali (so that they can easily converse with my kiddos) while my in-laws make sure my children learn Malayalam.
Pros of Knowing Multiple Languages
Learning multiple languages has its own pros, especially in a country like India (which has over 23 constitutional recognized official languages). It's important to know the regional language of the place where you are based out of. It will help in dealing with the locals of the place and knowing an additional language is always a good thing!
Many parents worry that exposing the child to multiple languages at a young age (like 2 years or so), might confuse the little one. My point here is you will never know, unless you try it with your child.
Here’re some tips to raising a bi-lingual or a multilingual child:
1.One Parent One Language Strategy
Make an amicable pact with your partner. You speak to your child in your mother tongue and let him speak in his. And why only speak, you can even narrate stories to your child in your respective mother tongues. Slowly, with this one-parent-one-language strategy, your little one will know that Daddy and Mummy have different native languages. Remember, only when the parents disagree and don’t respect each other’s choices, the child becomes confused, not knowing what to understand or who to support.
2.Making it a Fun-filled Process
Make the language acquisition process a fun-filled one for your toddler. Why not learn a few words or sentences of your spouse’s mother tongue and vice versa. Your little one will be delighted when she hears you speaking in her ‘Daddy’s language’. This will also boost her confidence in speaking multiple languages. You don’t have to wait long till she starts flaunting her multiple language skills.
3.Oh! Those Adorable Mix-ups
It’s quite common in multilingual toddlers to mix up the languages that she knows. Her one sentence might be composed of 2 or more languages. In such cases, don’t discourage her from speaking. Let her continue to speak. Just subtly correct her but don’t stop or distract her while she speaks.
4.Ideal Time to Introduce Multiple Languages
There’s no right time to introduce your child to more than one language. A baby gains the fundamental language and verbal skills in the first 3 years of her life. So, the sooner you start, the better. However, the language acquisition process in the brain continues even after 3 years of age, but the process is slower. Another big advantage of exposing kids to multiple languages early on is that the child doesn’t shy away from expressing through words. If you wait for your child to grow up, she will be more conscious of making blatant language errors and as a result, might lose the confidence to talk in different languages.
5.Patience Pays Off!
Don’t get disheartened, if you observe your kiddo picking up your partner’s language faster than yours. Remember, she has just begun to learn and there’s a long way for her to go. So, don’t give up and continue to speak to her in your mother tongue! Soon, she will surprise you by speaking all the languages that she is learning, equally well (almost!).
6.Rhymes, Songs and More!
Play some language specific rhymes, songs or movies for your child. Dedicate one week per language. This is a realistic way of reminding your little one to the different languages that she is learning.
Raising a child in a multilingual home is a long term commitment. So get on with it and don’t get disappointed, if your child is not learning her mother tongue the languages as quickly as you want her to. Do praise her every time she makes an effort to her express her emotions or communicate a message. Your joy will know no bounds, the day she says something really adorable in your language and that is when, you will realise the wait was definitely worth all your efforts!
Do you have any additional tips for raising multilingual kids? I would love to know about it.