The photo is our daughter dressed in traditional Chinese dress ( cheongsam) when she was three or four and fluent from birth in Mandarin, Spanish and English, when we lived in California. Since we are monolingual parents, this is very unusual, but we prove it can be done. Now that she is a fluent trilingual/triliterate at 10 1/2, we're grateful that it has worked so well since the many benefits are already clear.
"Learning to speak another language means taking one's place in the human community. It means reaching out to others across cultural and linguistic boundaries. Language is far more than a system to be explained. It is our most important link to the world around us. Language is culture in motion. It is people interacting with people" Sandra Savignon
"Our linguistic and cultural myopia is losing us friends, business and respect in the world" Fulbright
"We are educating children to have safe secure jobs in 1950.” Kiyosaki
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?
My husband only spoke Spanish to our child from pregnancy until she was 2 1/2. At that point she was so very fluent ( more so than him due to the other things we were doing) and verbose, that he felt his lack in Spanish was confining and affecting their relationship. He could not always say the things he wanted to say to her due to his lack of vocabulary.
I also found out that the parent who doesn't speak the language/s the child is learning is left out sometimes. I will always be left out of her Spanish and Chinese life until I become fluent. Sometimes that is frustrating or sad, but mostly her gain just makes me happy and I think that a child that is best in the family at something like languages or musical instrument is empowering for the child.
"Children most definitely do need to hear an existing language to learn that language, of course. Children with Japanese genes do not find Japanese any easier than English, or vice-versa; they learn whichever language they are exposed to" Pinker
HOW CAN YOU SUPPORT YOUR CHILD'S LANGUAGE ACQUISITION?
During pregnancy and early childhood we also listened to lots of Spanish music and watched Spanish TV, looked for outside opportunities to immerse. I was trying to get my Spanish better and it was good for the whole family. I'd watch it with English subtitles to try to learn as I watched. We don't watch TV normally, but made an exception for this. We had native speaking friends in Mandarin and Spanish that helped so much too.
Abstract thinking happens much earlier in bilinguals, they're proven to be better problem solvers and bilingual students scored 23 to 34 points higher than their monolingual peers in both the verbal and math sections of the F-CAT. Dr. Bialystok, a New York University linguistic expert, found that children who are exposed to a second languge early in life learn to read sooner than their monolingual peers.
"Research has shown that after 10 or 12 years old the brain handles language differently because until then it is constantly making neurological connections. As children we process language in the frontal lobe of the brain. But if we learn a language as a teenager or adult, the brain has to 'scramble' to find storage spaces somewhere else. So in simple terms, learn languages as a child and the brain absorbs them readily, after that it becomes much harder work. ...Exposure is the key." ( National Literacy Trust)
Learning another language in an all English dominated culture ( or any dominant language culture), takes concentrated effort because it's a lot easier to falll back on what you know. So one must create immersion within that environment.
"Language is not a genetic gift, it is a social gift. Learning a new language is becoming a member of the club --the communtiy of speakers of that language" Frank Smith
" We want to raise our children so they can get a sense of pleasure in both their own heritage and the diversity of others...." Mr. Rogers
"A different language is a different vision of life" Fellini
CREATING AN IMMERSION ENVIRONMENT AT HOME
We did it at home daily (LOTS) with :
• One parent only talking in the other language
• Playing music in the other language/s
• Reading books outloud in the other language/s
• Watching TV/movies in the other language/s
• Playing tapes of the parent who speaks the language when they are away
• Making sure she was always responding back, not just understanding
• Helping her know how to respond if needed
• Reading and writing daily when the child is old enough
• Have friends talk to her only in the other language/s
With a ten year old, we are still using most of these and continue to re-immerse regularly and keep up all three languages/literatures, although it is less intense now than when she was young. If languges and musical instrument practice is not kept up for many years, they can be lost, even the mother tongue.
WHEN DO KIDS REALIZE THEY ARE BILINGUAL?
At 15 months Mozart had figured out the code, because kids just learn language and said in an ah ha moment, "Daddy say's concina and Mommy says kitchen". I am not sure what is the average age that children come to understand they are learning more than one language, but probably varies with each child. I've heard of many that realize around 3 or 4 years old. The process simply seems normal to the child if that is all they have known.
CREATING IMMERSION OUTSIDE THE HOME
We did immersion outside the home ( LOTS) :
• By going to library story times in Spanish starting at 6 months
• Joined a Spanish play group from birth with all native speakers from many Spanish speaking countries for weekly immersion and made native speaking friends for regular playdates with families with similar spanish immersion goals
• Only hired help who were fluent native Spanish speakers and asked them to only talk Spanish to her and make sure that she was speaking Spansih back to them. If she did not know how to, they were instructed to help her to know how to answer back and to make her repeat it.
• Went to a Sunday school an hour away that was all Spanish speaking with all native speaking kids.
• Hired a nanny for a few hours several times a week, just to work with her in Spanish while they played. I found her at a playground and she happed to be an excellent elementary teacher in Columbia who was ahead of their Spanish/English bilingual probram.
• Sent her to a Montessori preschool that had assistants who only spoke Spansih to the children
• Hired a tutor before we went to Spain to help her with Spanish school terms and prepare for that. We've used both online and in real life native speaking Mandarin Chinese tutors to help. ( Yes, those costs have been included in our 23 dollars a day per person travel budget since 2006).
"A man who does not know a foreign language is ignorant of his own" Goethe
"When you know another language, you suddenly realize there is a multitude of worlds. You can become a member of EVERY club." Frank Smith
"The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life." Plato
PART THREE COMING NEXT
Coming next we will have part 3 on our raising a bilingual and multilingual child post series, where we will discuss how that will affect when they talk if started from birth, how to keep a balance, what if you do not speak a word of the other language you want to teach your child and more.
Please add any questions and join in the discussion! Are you raising a polyglot or do you want to?