Teaching your kids is trickier than you think

In Singapore, we emphasise the need for bilingualism (even multilingualism, if possible) through our education system. All children are taught their mother tongue language alongside the English language, our main language. More often than not, this mother tongue language is dependent on the child’s race. However, these days the choice is not so straightforward. While Singapore has increased the number of recognised mother tongue languages, parents are seeking to expose their kids to more languages.

It is common for parents to tutor their kids at home, especially at very young ages. Exposing their children to a language before they even start school is thought to give the child a head start but is this always the case?

As we discussed in our previous article, research has shown that children learn from a variety of stimuli from their surroundings. Therefore, parents who attempt to speak a language to their child in the hopes of teaching them the language can be an excellent means of exposure. However, this is contingent on the parents’ fluency in the language.

Research has shown that if a parent is not fluent in the language they are trying to teach their child, they tend to use a limited vocabulary and often imprecise grammar. Unfortunately, this is what the child then learns and applies. This approach can do more harm than good because the child will take these skills and later apply them to further learning, which stunts their ability to learn that language. For example, in French the word ‘mal’ means bad and a non-fluent speaker of the language may use it in a variety of sentences (be it correct or incorrect). The delicate intricacies of ‘mal’, ‘mauvaise’ (poor), ‘méchant’ (wicked), or ‘gâté’ (rotten) are all lost on the child.

Therefore, it is important that parents impart their native language, or the language the parents are fluent in, to their children. Research has shown that children who have strong first language skills find it easier to learn another language. Common sense tells us that for a child to communicate effectively in society, they must first learn and be able to communicate effectively at home.

Once this is achieved, the skills learnt from their native tongue can be used to learn another language. Children require quantity and quality language stimulus to learn effectively. Therefore, it is not enough for the parents to speak a chosen language to a child. The prevalence of speaking partners and opportunities is an excellent way to hone skills, build confidence and learn from one another. This point is true for learners of any age. Therefore, language playgroups, preschools with a focus on speaking one language or even encouraging family members to speak to a child in one language are all beneficial.

That said, the language you choose to teach your child need not be a “beneficial” language. Speaking Arabic is no less beneficial than English because today, we speak a multitude of languages. Focus on building a strong foundation for your child.

If you are looking for language playgroups for your child, Agape School of Education(ASE) has the courses you need. At ASE, conversation is a key focus. We offer a wide range of courses, which follow the Ministry of Education syllabus for students taking a third language or those under the Mother Tongue In-Lieu programme. We also have a range of playgroup classes where toddlers can meet and interact with one another in a controlled linguistic environment. Our teachers are all multi-linguists who enjoy teaching and inspiring students. Contact us today to find out how we can help you learn a new language!

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