Friday, April 9, 2010

Raising a multilingual child

While browsing through my blog roll I happened upon Hobo Mama's participation in a blog carnival about multilingualism. At first it didn't register in my mind, but then I followed some links and thought more about it. The reason I didn't pay much mind to it is because in Aruba everyone grows up speaking at the least, three languages, those being, Papiamento (our native language) English that we learn first from T.V. and then in school, and Dutch which we start learning in kindergarten( our whole school system is in Dutch.) Most people also speak Spanish, and those who excel a little bit more in school, attend a higher high-school level that offers French. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to learn French and I excelled at it (because we all know I sucked eggs in physics and math.) So in effect, I speak 5 languages. This is very handy, but in Aruba we hardly think anything of it. When you look at the diversity of the culture here, we truly are a melting pot. It's no wonder that we know so many languages because otherwise how would we communicate with each other, haha!

One of the links I read, spoke about how the parent's child mixed two languages a lot with each other. And that's what caught my attention. My 2-year-old daughter does it a lot too. As a baby we always spoke English to her because, even though I am Aruban, my maternal grandparents are from the tiny windward island of Saba and raised my mother in a solely English speaking family, and thus we were raised like that too. The local language, Papiamento, is something everyone learns on the street, or in my daughter's case, at day care. At first, she spoke predominantly Papiamento, but now she is speaking more English. She is singing her ABCs in English but she cannot count properly to ten yet. She does count to ten in correct sequence in Papiamentothough. She also sings a lot of children's songs in Papiamento. I'm working on helping her out with Dutch but not focusing too much on it because in a year-and-a-half she'll be in kindergarten and will automatically start learning it. Looking at it from a monolingual viewpoint, it is pretty neat to have a toddler that effortlessly speaks two languages, but I don't let it go to my head, after all, it's the norm here, it's not that big of a deal.

Sometimes you'll hear people cautioning about introducing or "mixing" languages with babies and young children because it may delay, impair, or confuse the child when it comes time to actually choosing and speaking a language, but the exact opposite is true. Some years back I saw a program on National Geographic that explained that the earlier on in your infant's life you introduce a second or subsequent language, the easier and quicker it is for them to pick it up and speak it when the time comes. It had to do with brain activity and also showed that as the years went on, the more difficult it is for humans to learn a new language (which is obvious in the difficulty we as adults have in learning a foreign tongue). Food for thought...

What about you, do you speak more than one language at home? What about your baby/child, is he/she exposed to more than one tongue?

1 comment:

  1. That is fascinating! I had no idea so many languages were spoken where you are. I love the idea of a culture where it's effortless to pick up so many languages, which is what I'm trying (but with a lot of effort) to give my child in terms of immersing him in both German and English. We're even trying to throw a little Spanish into the pot now. I definitely don't worry about all those cautions against mixing languages and confusing children — bah! As you know first-hand, children can handle multiple languages from a very young age just fine.