There are so many research-based resources available detailing the positive benefits of bilingualism. However, speech and language pathologist, Ana Paula G. Mumy, reports that the practice of speaking to children in their native language, within a home environment, is diminishing.
Her research has shown that many of the parents she comes into contact with have been persuaded to believe it’s detrimental to have their children speak both languages concurrently. The common understanding being that it could somehow hurt them either socially or academically.
Ana says, “I often hear reports that parents have received recommendations from professionals and educators to stop speaking to their children in their native language. The most popular reasons being so as not to create confusion, so that language delays will not occur and so that their children will ultimately do well in school. But the fact remains that research tells us the exact opposite!
“Even if a parent is able to adopt the language of their new community, their vocabulary, grammar skills and ease of communication will almost certainly remain stronger in their native language.
“The problem with having the child concentrate solely on their new community language is that the foundation of their very understanding of language as a whole (which will have been formed through the native language) is pulled out from under them.
“Research also shows us that children who have strong first language skills are much more ready and able to learn a second language. It’s much more difficult to build a second language if the foundational building blocks of the native language have not been established.”
So, if you’re a bilingual/multilingual parent or a professional educator, here are some tips for supporting children of school age:
Continue to help your children with homework, projects, or assignments that are in the community language.
Make sure to read the assignment’s text or the given passages in the community language. But ensure that all of the other verbal interaction surrounding that piece of homework remains in your native language. Alternating between two languages, or code switching, is a perfectly normal part of communication in bilingual individuals. Despite popular belief, it does not promote or show signs of confusion, and it’s a perfectly acceptable practice among those that are bilingual and multilingual.
Use the native language at home, at every given opportunity.
In everyday conversation, family routines, during family outings and celebrations – make sure to speak your native language. Children need to frequently hear a range of good quality language input to develop their own individual language skills. And parents are the ideal vehicle for giving their children this form of input.