The why and how to support multilingualism in early childhood

The why and how to support multilingualism in early childhood

SEEC is a passionate supporter of learning multiple languages and all of the wonderful benefits that this brings. In this article, we explore better ways to support multilingualism in early childhood education. Looking at how learning and using multiple languages can also help with problem-solving, multitasking, creativity, concentration and flexible thinking.

What is multilingualism?

The trend to learn more than one language will only grow as we learn the infinite benefits of being multilingual. Multilingualism is when an individual competently and confidently speaks, writes, expresses, and understands two or more languages. Multilingualism gives an individual the ability to think critically, display self-control, remain focussed and eradicate distractions (Bialystok & Martin, 2004; Zelazo, Carlson, & Kesek, 2008).

Children, from a very young age, are engineered to learn more than one language. Dr Susan Curtiss, an American Linguistic, from the University of California confirms that children can learn many languages if they hear the languages systematically and consistently (“Talking the talk early in life, TheIsmaili”, 2009).

So why learn more than one language?

We live in a globalised environment and connect more with people across the globe now than ever before and hence need fluency in more than one language. Mobility has no borders now due to evolving technology and ample international opportunities.  Transnationalism is becoming a more and more common feature of this contemporary world.

Additionally, more languages mean more neural connections. The more informed you are, the more capable of understanding multiple perspectives and having the ability to interpret social conventions.

Multilingual speakers also have more cognitive flexibility which allows them to switch swiftly between the tasks. Multilingualism allows children to develop a strong sense of identity and sense of self and promotes inclusion.

3 multilingual myths debunked!

Learning a second language is only easier if you stop conversing in your first language”

Myth – the more fluent you are in your first language, the easier it will be to learn and adopt a second language.

Language delay is a result of children learning a second language”

Myth – learning a second language does not contribute to language delay. Any child, including a bilingual child, can have language delay but not because they are learning a second language.

Family members must stop using home language when their child starts learning a second language as children can be overwhelmed and exhausted”

Myth – parents and primary caregivers must continue to model the correct use of vocabulary sentence structure in their home language. This will help support the child’s bilingualism and sustain the home language. Children are “almost infinitely adaptable” says Professor Zanvyl Krieger from John Hopkins University when it comes to learning languages (“Talking the talk early in life, TheIsmaili”, 2009)

Fluent multilinguals will also have a dominant language that they are comfortable using and helps with thought processing. This by no means imparts that you should give up using one language over the other. It may result in the mixing of two or more languages which is an acceptable and normal part of being bilingual/multilingual.

Annick De Houwer (2007), a Belgian linguistic, academic and writer supports the OPOL (“One person – One language) method.  This method involves each person speaking one language to your child, for example, one parent speaking their only dominant language to their child and a grandparent speaking a different language to the same child. This method allows children to associate people with languages and with consistency will strengthen the use and adaptability of languages.

How do we support multilingism at SEEC?

  • Our educators are culturally competent and multilingual. Some of our educators are not just bilingual or trilingual but also quadrilingual. Our educators encourage reciprocal interactions with children by being responsive and modelling the use of parallel words in more than one language promoting the use of home languages (Zheng, Degotardi & Djonov, 2021).
  • Our educators actively engage in translanguaging. Our pedagogical practices are aligned to incorporate more than one language within a learning environment using cultural resources such as songs, books, music, routines, and games. Immersion into these experiences in multiple languages helps children learn a new language and strengthen their sense of belonging, better connections, and taking ownership of their cultural heritage.
  • We work in partnership with families. Our educators encourage families to share their home languages and culture which we immerse into our educational program. We also work in partnership and involve families in educational experiences and goals.
  • Our curriculum incorporates a Mandarin language program. Brain research shows that the early childhood years are the optimal time for children to begin to learn another language. SEEC’s Mandarin program is also supported by the Australian Government’s ELLA program, a digital language learning program for preschool children as a part of the Government’s commitment to supporting language study.

We hope that this article has helped you support multilingualism in early childhood. If you would like to find out more about our service you can book a tour or send us a message.

References:

  • Bialystok, E., & Martin, M. M. (2004). Attention and inhibition in bilingual children: Evidence from the dimensional change card sort task. Developmental Science7(3), 325-339.
  • De Houwer, Annick (2007). Parental language input patterns and children’s bilingual use. Applied Psycholinguistics, 28, 411-424.
  • Duff, P. A. (2015). Transnationalism, multilingualism, and identity. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics35, 57-80.
  • Leaning links (n.d.). Supporting bilingual children in early childhood. April 20, 2022.
  • Talking the talk early in life, TheIsmaili (2009, April 3).
  • Zelazo, P. D., Carlson, S. M., & Kesek, A. (2008). The development of executive function in childhood.
  • Zheng, Z., Degotardi, S., & Djonov, E. (2021). Supporting multilingual development in early childhood education: A scoping review. International Journal of Educational Research110, 101894.

Sultana Thanawala – WEEC Director
Written by Sultana Thanawala, WEEC Director

Some other posts that might interest you: