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Part 1 - Is it Possible for Children to be Proficient in More than One Language?

by on 10/02/2015 1637

As an educator for close to 20 years, I have always been asked by parents on how to teach a child a second language. Residing in Malaysia, we are exposed to at least four languages – English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. We may not speak or comprehend all the languages but we are multi-lingual listeners.


Only in Malaysia we can speak four languages in one sentence and still be understood. For example, Aqil tweeted, “Wei macha, you want to makan here or tapau?" which translates to, “Hey brother, would you like to dine in or take-away?” 

(Source: https://twitter.com/yoaqil/status/

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Most of the time, we find that many Malaysians possess the basics of conversing in certain dialects and languages.  Most of us are not born a polyglot but how are we able to teach our children to be proficient – able to read, write and converse – in more than one language?

 

Learning a Language Has Become an Academic Requirement


Language which was first used as a unique tool for communication within a community has over time become structured and necessary for one to progress in life.  The education system does not only utilise this tool as a mode of communication to deliver knowledge of Mathematics and Science to students but has made language itself a subject for assessment.  Students’ knowledge on the technicality of the language has become an academic requirement to get into a reputable school and to secure a job.  From how I see it, not many children these days are given the opportunity to grow up appreciating languages.  Other than their mother tongue, the environment which the children grow up in rarely allows them to connect their senses to the language which they are learning. 

 

How Do We Make Learning a Second Language Easier for Children?


Most parents love the idea of their children being speakers of many languages.  At the same time, the children are required to be proficient in a certain language or languages prior to starting primary school.  As such, many parents are seeking for ways to ensure that their children are equipped with the basic skills of the languages required by the time they complete preschool.  But how do we make learning the second language and for some, the third, a less stressful experience for the children?

 

The best way for children to learn a language is by immersing them in the environment where they get to experience the usage of the language directly.  They learn to observe – the context in which the words are used in a language, along with the pronunciation, intonation, and grammar structure – and reciprocate.  Depending on the age of the learner, immersion includes exposing the child to age-appropriate activities such as singing to nursery rhymes, listening to the lyrics of music and moving to the words and rhythm accordingly, or watching a movie in the language. 

 

Reading is another powerful tool one can use for a child to pick up vocabulary and grammar from a very young age.  Modelling is what young children do best so do not expect your child to like reading if you or your partner do not read. 

 

Just like how plants need to be watered and nurtured in a favourable environment, so do children especially when it comes to picking up a new skill.  Remember that for a child to apply something that he or she has just learned, the child must first like the idea of using the newly acquired knowledge.  A nurturing environment where the adults use positive affirmation to acknowledge that the child is on the right track will ensure his or her heart and mind opens to learning.  Once we remove the negativity in the environment, growth happens.  To top it up, learning in a fun environment is like adding fertiliser to the soil.  Making learning fun will ensure the child stays engaged, interested and curious.

 

In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell quoted that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.  He points that natural talent is not important but practice is necessary to make improvement.  In the case of picking up a second language, provide the child with ample opportunities to practise!

 

What if the environment at home is not conducive for the child to pick up a second language?  Or perhaps parents or care-givers do not have the time to teach their children another language?  

 

I believe that similar to how working parents choose a care-giver for their children, when it comes to learning a second language, parents will be able to select a suitable learning centre that will help to fill the void of what the parents are not able to give to their children.  

 

Besides the above, there are many more factors that determine the success of a child’s language acquisition.  These include the child’s cognition abilities, level of motivation, personality (whether the child is a risk-taker in trying out the new language); and experience in terms of having had prior exposure to the culture, native speakers, and place of where the language is used. 

 

Language acquisition is like picking up a new instrument.  One must first have a liking for it before picking it up to try.  Once one has acquired the basic skills of playing the instrument, one only gets better with practice.  However, if one seldom plays the instrument, one gets rusty and would require some time to brush it up again. 

 

 

By: Aileen Hoe,

Director of English Champ Malaysia

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About the Writer

Aileen Hoe English ChampAileen identifies herself as a ‘mother’ of hundreds with one biological daughter and the rest, her students ranging from two to 17 years.  She started teaching at the tender age of 15 and when she realised how much an impact she had made in her first student, she decided that the most effective way of teaching is through understanding the child’s learning style and utilising effective teaching methods that cater to the child’s needs.  She is trained in various areas in relation to early childhood development, psychology, teaching English as a second language, music and movement, and speech and drama.  During her free time, she enjoys writing whilst sipping a cup of freshly brewed coffee, cuddling and reading with her five-year old daughter and frolicking with her dog.

 

About English Champ

English Champ is an English enrichment centre specialising in curriculum for children aged two to adults.  Our mission statement is combining the methods of teaching with the skills of learning.  We respect each child’s unique learning styles and hone their skills by developing their strengths and strengthening their weaknesses.  Our objective is to promote language competence – the ability to read, write and communicate effectively with confidence, purpose and enjoyment.  Once a child enjoys doing what he or she does, learning becomes natural.  To achieve this goal, fun activities are included in our programme to focus on the development of the four skills of the language – speaking, listening, reading and writing.

 

For further details of our programmes, please contact us at +603 7725 9255 / +6013 2928 251 or aileen@englishchamp.com.my.  You may also visit English Champ’s website at www.englishchamp.com.my or www.facebook.com/englishchampmalaysia