- January 6, 2012
- 1 comment
Growing up, 25-30 years ago (seeing those numbers is frightening!) I remember my parents debating as to whether or not to speak their native language with my siblings and I at home. Back then there was also a stigma against speaking other languages in certain parts of the country—people with foreign accents were discriminated against. Their fear was that if they did not speak English at home it might hamper our English and American education. Though my parents were concerned, they were immigrants and did not speak English very well so really had no choice but to speak their native language at home. My dad spoke 4-5 languages (somewhat fluently) due to constant traveling, while my mom held her own with 3 languages. Luckily their lack of fluency in English gave my siblings and I a bilingual upbringing.
…it made learning other languages easier and enhanced the level of discipline I had for other studies.
As a grown up, and before my own children arrived, I realized their dilemma. I didn’t want multiple languages at home to interfere with my own children’s studies. But I gave it some thought and soon realized that not only did it not mess me up, but it made learning other languages easier and enhanced the level of discipline I had for other studies. There have been numerous studies over the last 10-20 years supporting the theory that learning a second language improves learning skills, critical thinking and multitasking.
I started off well when my first child arrived. I spoke my family’s language at home with her constantly. But then I became complacent and lazy with children two and three and by child number four any language other than English fell off the radar. The irony is that I spend a lot of money sending my children to afterschool programs to learn the same language I could have taught them at home, had I been diligent. Intellectually, I knew that teaching them at home from the beginning was the right thing to do but with a spouse who only spoke English it was just easier to speak in English. I did what was more convenient for me.
Language immersion at home is ideal because it forces children (and us) to keep our skills up.
With the diversity in the world today a lot of households have at least one parent who speaks another language. Even if you don’t speak fluently, you can try to learn another language together with your child. While I know that it’s not easy in our fast-paced world to slow down and translate or learn another language with our family members, it is a learning opportunity that we have at our fingertips each day. Completely aside from the educational benefits, it can help children learn about cultures, makes them more marketable for future employment and opens their minds to diversity. Language immersion at home is ideal because it forces children (and us) to keep our skills up. If immersion is not possible then daily exposure through studying or practice works fine. The younger you start with your children, the better but it’s never too late! So, on my never-ending quest to be a better parent, this New Year my resolution is to speak with not only my kids, but everyone who’ll talk to me in a foreign language. It’s not just for them, but for my own learning too. I’ll let you know how long it lasts. Though the diet resolution from last year got derailed by Valentine’s Day!
Happy New Year!