21 January 2017
Today is the UN’s International Mother Language Day. UNESCO (United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) states that “to foster sustainable development, learners must have access to education in their mother tongue and other language. It is through the mastery of their first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired.”
This is the reason that the Cora Barclay Centre believes so strongly in the children who are deaf or hearing impaired learning to listen and speak. 90% of children with a hearing loss are born to hearing parents, therefore spoken language is their mother tongue.
This year the theme of International Mother Language Day has the theme of ‘Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education’.
The Cora Barclay Centre is lucky to have a diverse group of families on service from several ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Along with this diversity comes a lot of different languages which often raises the questions: Do I teach my child both languages? Do I teach my child their native language, in which I am most fluent? Will this hinder their performance when raising them in an English speaking society? My child already has a hearing loss. Won’t this complicate thing even more? Should I wait until they get older?
There are many theories about teaching language to children of bilingual families but a few things remain consistent across most: start young and teach your child in whichever language comes most comfortably and fluently to you. This is because children need excellent models for language to gain excellent language ability, regardless of what that language is. No matter what the language, it is important for children to learn extensive vocabulary as well as accurate grammatical and sentence structure. This isn’t to say that if English is your weaker language that you shouldn’t still use it.
English can be used in conjunction with your native language if you prefer exposure to both. As a suggestion, you could try using English during a portion of the day and your native language for the rest of the day which gives them plenty of time to use both languages in a variety of situations.
Even if you decide to not speak English with your child at home at all, they will still get enough English exposure at kindergarten and school to master the language to result in your child being fluent in both languages. There can be an initial lag in development at this stage when English is introduced, but it is temporary and the child often learns very quickly.
Will it complicate things if your child has a hearing loss? If your child is aided optimally, is a consistent wearer of their technology and has been receiving early intervention then this should not be a factor in deciding whether or not to teach another language.
Should you wait until they get older? Generally, no. This is because children’s brains are sponges in the early years. Young children have the remarkable ability to acquire new words at a rapid rate. This is not to say that your child cannot learn a new language when they are older, it just means that they may not possess the fluency that could have been possible if learnt at a young age and it may not be acquired with as much ease.
The bottom line is, if you are a speaker of two languages, you should most definitely take advantage of this and provide your child with the opportunity to be bilingual as well. Some advantages among many could include: more job opportunities, being able to converse with their relatives overseas or grandparents who may not have fluent English and most importantly, sharing a part of your culture and history with you.