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Frequently Asked Questions- Language Acquisition

 

1. Why bother to have my child learn more than one language, I don’t know many multilingual people.

Recent estimates reflect a growing trend towards multilingualism. Currently approximately 75% of the population is multilingual. Children around the world usually learn a mother tongue along with the language of the country they live in.



2. Many of my friends do not have their children learning a different language, shy should I?

The decision to have your child learn a second or third language is a very personal decision. Research and facts rather than opinions which indicate how easy it is for children to learn languages at a young age, along with the growing numbers of multilingualism is what should guide parents to make such a personal decision.

3. At what age should I start teaching my child a language?

At birth. Research studies after research study dictate the importance of introducing languages to children at birth. Due to brain plasticity, children are best able to acquire languages during the critical period or window of opportunity which. This time frame is considered optimal from birth trough puberty.

4. At what age is it too late to become bilingual or multilingual? 

It is never too late to learn additional languages. It is much easier though for children to learn multiple languages during the ‘critical period’ or ‘window of opportunity’. To engage a child in a second or third in a language-learning environment, ensure that it is a stimulating one for him or her.

5. “They can learn languages very quickly”

Though it is not impossible to acquire a second language, after puberty it becomes more difficult as children’s brains lose their ‘functional plasticity’. In order to become bilingual, it is estimated that children need to be exposed to the target language and approximate 30% of their time.

6. What is language immersion?

In an immersion program, the curriculum is taught entirely in the target language. In an immersion method of instruction, the teacher or the program make use of the brain’s natural capacity to learn languages in the same manner in which we learn our mother tongue.

7 What is the difference between ‘language acquisition’ and ‘language learning’?

Language learning refers to instruction typically not taught in the target language. ‘Language acquisition’ refers to the natural way in which we all learn our first language. Loosely, the term indicates that an individual has more proficiency in more than one language.

8. What does ‘dominant language’ mean?

The dominant language is the language that the child knows best. This may change over time based on how often the child may or may not speak the given language.



9. What does ‘bilingual’ mean?

A bilingual person is one who is considered as having almost perfect proficiency in two languages.



10. When is my child considered to be bilingual?

Every child is different. Many factors come into play, to determine the progress a child will make. It is important to note that speaking two languages is a skill, which takes many hours of ongoing practice to reach mastery.  For a child to be considered bilingual, he or she has reached a strong level of proficiency and prefers to speak in one language and displays stronger skills in that particular language.

11. Can children learn several languages simultaneously without getting confused? Should children learn the mother tongue before they learn a second language?

Yes, many research studies indicate that the brain is predisposed to learning several languages simultaneously or successively without mixing them up. Many countries in which multilingualism is the norm not the exception demonstrate children’s ability to learn

more than one language at the same time.  Children will learn the mother tongue with consistent exposure.  Even children with identified learning difficulties are able to develop oral fluency in many languages.

12. Are bilingual people smarter?

Bilingual people perform better in IQ tests based on the way in which they approach new situations. They have an increased ability to face challenges based on a greater repertoire of critical thinking skills

13. Does bilingualism affect the brain?

No, in fact studies show that bilingualism maintains the brain alert and slows the onset of dementia.

14. Will learning two languages cause speech problems?

No, language skills are developed by children all over the world without speech delays.

15. How do I help my child become bilingual?

It is important to provide the child with as authentic exposure as possible.  Everyday opportunities may include: language classes, playdates with other families who share the same interest in acquiring the second language, having target language caretakers for the children, enrolling children in schools with a target language curriculum, listening to music, tapes, and cd’s.

16. My child is being exposed to a second language but does not seem to be responding?

When children are exposed to a second language it is normal to witness limited response.

This is normal, during the first months following exposure to a second language it is common to see a ‘silent period’ in which children are ‘absorbing’ the language before they externalize it through the use of spoken words.