Monday, 19 February 2018

Which Language Should I Speak to my Child?

Multilingual parents often wonder which language they should be speaking to their child. Deciding which language or languages to speak to your child can be a worrying and confusing issue. This is particularly true if you have more than two languages to choose from. The more languages you have in your language environment, the more confusing it becomes. Should you concentrate on the majority language (the language spoken in the community in which you live)? Or should you speak a minority language (a language which
is not dominant in the community around you)? Should you speak a language you know very well or a language you do not know so well? The answer may seem obvious, but to many it is not. I will aim to answer these questions in this article.

Speak your first language to your child

It is generally recommended that you speak your first language with your child. Your first language is not necessarily the first language you ever learnt to speak. For instance, you might not have spoken the language since childhood and have, therefore, forgotten some or most of it. Therefore, when I talk about the first language, I mean the language which you are most confident and fluent in; your dominant language.

The dominant language is the language which you speak best. It is the language you are most comfortable speaking and can communicate in effectively. For many, it is the first language they learnt to speak or the language they use most often.

Reasons for speaking your dominant language to your child

Provide a good language model - they will learn the language correctly

When speaking to children who are learning to talk, it is extremely important to give them a good language role model to learn from. They need to hear the language from a competent speaker in order to pick up the correct grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation of the language. If you speak a language to your child that you do not know that well, you risk teaching your child the language incorrectly. They could make errors when they speak it because they have picked up the errors from you.

Express yourself better

Have you ever tried to speak to your child in a language you did not know very well? I actually tried this before and I realised I spoke to my child far less than I normally did when speaking my dominant language to my child. When you have a baby or a toddler to communicate with, it is important to speak as much as you can. Use the running commentary technique and speak about what you are doing throughout the day. For more tips on how to help your child to talk CLICK HERE.

If you cannot express yourself well, you will be less inclined to speak and you will not be able to communicate effectively with your child. 

Language of the heart

They say your first language is the language of the heart. You feel emotions more strongly when using this language because you have a deeper connection with it. How would you feel talking about emotional topics in a language that does not mean much to you? 

You are going to use emotional language with your child. Try telling your child that you love them in a different language, then try telling them in your first language. How do you feel? Do you notice a difference? 

Do your children call you the word for 'Mum' or 'Dad' in your first language or another language? Which word do you like them to use? Personally, I do not like my children to call me 'anne' (the Turkish word for 'mum') because 'anne' does not mean anything to me. I don't have the same connection with the word 'anne' as I do with the word 'mum'.

Benefits of being bilingual

There are so many benefits to being bilingual so if your first language is the minority language you will be giving the gift of bilingualism to your child. There are many cognitive benefits to being bilingual. Bilinguals are better at paying attention and being flexible. Bilingualism can help protect against illnesses such as dementia. Being bilingual allows you to communicate with more people and learn about different cultures. it opens up opportunities in the future such as job opportunities. There are many other benefits too.

Ability to speak with extended family members

Your first language is most likely the language that your family members speak. Therefore, by teaching your child your first language it means that they will be able to communicate with members of the extended family. If your first language is different to that of the extended family, think of other people your child can hear that language from in order to pick it up. Alternatively, find books or courses for your child to learn that language as a foreign language.

Risks of speaking a second language to your child

If you speak a language to your child that you are not proficient in, you could be doing your child a disservice. Firstly, as I mentioned above, if you cannot speak a language well then you will not be a good language role model for your child and risk them learning the language inaccurately. This could lead to them making mistakes when they are speaking.

Secondly, you may not speak as much as you could because of the effort to use a language you are not so familiar with. You may also have problems selecting the right words to say. 

Thirdly, you may have a hard time emotionally connecting with what you are saying.

Fourthly, ff the language you choose to speak is not the language of your close family members, you risk the child feeling left out at family gatherings as they will not understand what is being said. 

Can I speak a second language to my child?

Having said all this, if you are comfortable in speaking more than one language and can do so fluently, congratulations! You have the option of choosing whichever language you want to speak to your child in but do not underestimate the importance of speaking to your child in a language which is close to your heart.

Additional articles of interest


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