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Foreign Language Acquisition in Children

by Kim Cordell (861 views)
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In Singapore, a city which has five official spoken languages as well as the many more spoken by tourists, or people working and living in the city, it is common to see people in relationships or married who have a different background in culture, nationality or language.

For children born to those couples, this is a great opportunity to be given a vast cultural awareness of two different cities or even countries, in addition to an opportunity of bilingualism from birth which is incredible. For the majority of people living in the U.K. as an example, they are only able to speak one language, although schools are recognising the importance of having a foreign language and thus placing an emphasis on this within the curriculum across the country, whereas in a country like Singapore, I had the experience of teaching children who by the age of 5/6 were mastering up to three languages, with two being spoken fluently in the home which always amazes me.

credit:northeastohioparent.com

However, when children are beginning to master the steps of language and learning the alphabet, phonics and different tones and accents required by a language, it can often become a bit of a muddle for such young learners. Indeed, one friend whose husband is English and she Japanese, recounted to me a story of her friend whose child is learning three languages at the age of around 3.

This is proving a difficult feat for the child and people around her, as the mum, is unable to understand her husband’s native language, and her and others rarely understand what her child needs because of the jumble of words which come out across a mixture of the languages.In Singapore, a city which has five official spoken languages as well as the many more spoken by tourists, or people working and living in the city, it is common to see people in relationships or married who have a different background in culture, nationality or language.

So let this act as a reminder to speak two languages at home when the child is beginning to get to grips with speaking. Make sure they are able to master these two parent languages fairly well before introducing a third, unless you want to be left with a child who is frustrated and unable to communicate well. I often taught children who were incredibly adept at learning languages, and one in particular at the age of five was speaking French, Japanese and learning English with me. Luckily, I understand French, having been taught from the age of 3, but with a bit of rusty vocabulary, on occasion I was unable to understand his words he could tell me in French, but did not know yet in English. If you ever find yourself in this situation with a young learner, have paper and pens to hand for them to draw what they mean. On occasion this activity may prove difficult, in which case resort to asking someone who speaks the same language to clarify the child’s meaning, but sometimes it is good to let a child use their creativity and explore communication in different ways.