Invest In Kids
This week Canadians celebrate the National Francophonie Week and on March 20 Francophones around the world will celebrate the International Day of Francophonie. It’s a great opportunity for families across the country to join the celebration by participating in one of many events and activities organized locally to remind us and make us proud of our rich linguistic and cultural heritage.
Whether it is the French along with the English language that’s spoken in your home, or any one of many other languages used in Canada, most families and parents want to pass their heritage and knowledge on to their next generation. And, as our society’s diversity flourishes and many facets of our lives become prefixed with the word ‘global,’ even those families and parents who are unilingual are increasingly interested in helping their children learn another language. So, what is a parent to do? How do we raise a new young generation of global citizens?
“We often hear that children are like ‘sponges,’ and that they can learn any language easily while they are young. This is true, but only when they have lots of exposure to the language or languages their parents would like them to learn,” says Dr. Liane Comeau, language and literacy expert with Invest in Kids, a national charity helping parents support the healthy social, emotional and intellectual development of children aged 0-5.
“Our approach can best be described as very informal. We use the two languages interchangeably in all contexts of daily life,” says Angus Patterson, reflecting on how he and his wife, Dawn Tam Patterson, are helping their 18-month-old son Sébastien learn both French and English.
“In communities where both languages are equally represented, a child’s ability to speak both languages will develop naturally. However, where that’s not the case, raising a bilingual child requires conscious planning and effort. Both parents need to agree on their strategies and what each will do to help their child learn another language,” says Dr. Comeau whose research on young French-English bilingual children was published in the February issue of The Journal of Child Language.
Invest in Kids has several suggestions for parents that they can use to help their child become bilingual or even multilingual. These tips are based on Invest in Kids’ Comfort, Play & Teach: A Positive Approach to Parenting™, a simple framework parents can use to support their child’s healthy development while comforting, playing with and teaching their child:
· Listen to recordings of your favourite music in both languages. You can dance to the melody or your child can sing along if she or he knows the words. Play lullabies at nap time or as background music to activities like drawing and painting. This will comfort your child as music evokes different feelings, and listening to it can build your child’s confidence in understanding the words and in using them.
· Play a game of I Spy in both languages, providing clues about different things in the environment. Your child can guess what you are looking at based on things like its colour, shape, size or function. Encourage your child to give clues to you as well. This fun activity will provide opportunities to play together and both to speak and to listen.
· Take turns talking to your child in your native language about what is happening whether you are cooking, doing laundry, shopping or repairing something. By describing different things about the activity, you will teach your child new words and build his or her vocabulary. In turn, asking questions about what you are doing will encourage your child to use these new words and to talk about his experiences.
Parents can find these and additional tips and activities they can use to support their child’s learning of another language in the Answers for Parents and the Comfort, Play & Teach Tip Sheets at www.investinkids.ca.