The advantages of being bilingual are well-known. From having cognitive effects like better task-switching abilities, to practical effects like higher employability, bilingualism is a coveted skill that many people desire their children to attain.
Yet, becoming bilingual has its fair share of challenges. Children who learn more than one language need to put in more effort to learn to distinguish between the two. Experts believe it is normal to have bilingual kids seem rocky in their language development, even ‘lagging’ behind their monolingual peers at first. Some children may also show a lack of confidence in their less-dominant tongue, exhibiting a reluctance to speak it.
When this happens, some steps need to be taken to help the child gain confidence. As an assurance to parents, research shows that most bilingual children end up catching up with their peers by their early years in school. By taking steps to build up their confidence, you can help them practice their languages more, and accelerate their rate of learning.
Here are some ways you can help your child gain confidence as a bilingual speaker:
Address their fears
Let’s face it – learning anything new is challenging, and sometimes scary. Some personalities have strong perfectionist streaks or an innate fear of failure. These types of children may be more reluctant to venture out with the language they are less proficient in.
What you can do is address this difficulty with your child. Talk to them and find out what exactly is hindering them – is it a fear of being laughed at? Or a fear that they won’t be understood? Affirm them that their fears are normal, but they can be overcome! From there, you can then alleviate the psychological barrier they have by addressing their specific issues.
Demonstrate language learning
This applies to homes where the children are learning a second language that is not native to the parents. Rather than have children pick up a totally foreign language that is not even spoken at home, parents can enhance their child’s learning process by picking up the language as well. By being an example of language learning, parents can show their children that it’s normal to make mistakes while learning, even as an adult.
Having parents that also speak the language increases the opportunities for them to converse in the language. Language learning can be a platform for bonding, and as it becomes associated with home and family, children will gradually grow to be more comfortable with it.
Let them talk
A parent’s protective instincts often kick in when they see their child in difficulty. However, parenting experts say it is advisable not to give in every time. Resist the urge to take over and help your child speak, even when you see them struggling.
It might be frustrating at first, but it will give your child the experience of thinking on their feet and practising their language. You can lend a hand by encouraging or prompting them, but don’t forget to give them time and space to think and respond.
Parents, in their urgency to correct or affirm, can sometimes lapse into the mistake of over-praising or over-criticising. While the intentions are right, an over-abundance of evaluative comments can make children more self-conscious over their speech and language than is normally warranted.
It’s hard to say what is an appropriate measure for doling out comments about your child’s speech, but you can gauge it by your child’s response. If they start to show signs of wariness and fear over speaking, it may be a sign that it is too much.
Find things they enjoy
If your child is averse to engaging with a certain language, you have to get creative to find ways to attract them to it. One excellent way is to leverage on subjects and hobbies they already love. For example, knowing that your child loves a particular cartoon character, you can find storybooks featuring the character in the language they are less confident in.
For a child who enjoys music, perhaps learning through songs and rhymes will be a better method than books. Finding something that makes the child click gives them an impetus to use and learn the language, and makes the learning process more enjoyable for them as well.
When it comes to language learning, few ways are better than simply having ample practice in speaking it. Thus, these suggestions are meant to help your child speak more so that they can practise the language with minimal fear and maximum enjoyability.
As important as the practice is the input that children receive. When children are exposed to quality language sources around them, they learn the right ways of language much more quickly and easily. Thus, you can imagine how favourable an immersive bilingual environment will be for a budding bilingual.
The Canadian International School in Singapore boasts wonderful bilingual immersion programmes for Chinese-English and French-English language pairs. Led by native speakers of the respective languages, the IB education-aligned programmes ensure that every child will have ample opportunities to pick up both languages through lots of speaking opportunities and engaging lesson activities.
If you wish to give your child the extra boost of confidence in their path to bilingualism, this top international school experience will be immensely beneficial to them.