Creating an environment that teaches a child to learn different languages from a young age.
I recently had an aha-moment when I realized that we are that family who sings in four languages- English, Urdu, Arabic and French. (I haven’t introduced my kids to Hindi yet, but if you counted one of those Urdu songs as Hindi, then, that would be an additional fifth one!) I have talked about my adventure to teaching my eldest four languages in six years but now I am focusing on my younger children so that I can do it all over again. My daughters already speak two languages because my home is a multilingual environment for them. Today, I am talking about creating an environment that teaches a child to learn different languages from a very young age.
My daughters are two and three years old. The elder one started kindergarten this year and already, she speaks English and Urdu quite well for her age. She is learning the basics of Arabic at school now. The toddler understands Urdu and English. Although, she speaks in only words these days, and she isn’t very clear at times but, her advantage is that she has older siblings who she is picking her language skills from. I was recently very surprised that she sang an entire nasheed in Arabic for me. Not very clear but it was so exciting to hear a just-turned- two-year-old sing in a language she doesn’t speak! I know… I know… I sound as if I am bragging.! I am just very excited about my youngest! My older one can sing quite a few of those nasheeds and she has been practicing so this is where the younger one picked it from.
If you are a first time mom or looking for ways to introduce your children to multiple languages, then I am sure you will want to ask me what I am doing right. The key is to creating an environment that promotes learning, I say. How do you create an environment to learning languages, you ask? Well… read on:
I am not an expert by any standards. I am just a mom who speaks a few languages who has experience teaching her three children in playful ways. These tips will not guarantee that that you will grow a multilingual child but it will definitely help you set an environment that promotes learning from a very young age. I am sure if you incorporate these tips in your home, your child will definitely take interest in languages and different cultures. These tips have surely helped us.
Creating an environment that teaches a child to learn different languages from a young age.
- Let them hear languages being spoken. If you are interested in getting your child to speak more than one language from the beginning then by all means, start early. We started by focusing on teaching our children to speak only in our mother tongue till they were at least two years old before I started introducing other languages. The reason I did this, was because I wanted them to be familiar with ‘themselves’ before they learnt more about the world around them. That said, I’d like to add that even though I spoke to them in only our mother tongue, there was always hints of other languages. I am a mom who loves to sing, so my kids have heard lullabies in all the languages that I speak. We always converse in Urdu but at bedtime they heard me sing in English, Hindi, Urdu and Arabic. After my eldest started kindergarten, the younger babies heard me sing to them French songs too. So my tip#1 would be to have an environment where they hear language.
- Fill their world with books: Books spark imagination, wonder and excitement among other things. Babies love books too. They may not be able to read or follow along with your story, but they will observe those pictures and forms. Make books available to them and be sure they are not just in your primary language. If you can get them a membership to a children’s library that has books in different languages, that is even better. My children became members from birth even though we already had a good collection of books in our home. There can never be enough books, don’t you agree? Another reason why I prefer libraries is so that they can socialize and mingle with other children. Most libraries have a story hour where the little children get to sit together and hear a book being read. I cannot stress enough the importance of having another person read a story to your child and in a setting where there are books and more children! Some libraries have story hour in two or more languages too. I was lucky that our children’s library had this. Although, they were just babies, I would sit with them in my lap to hear the stories being read. My kids would listen wide eyed and in wonder. What they heard was not the words but the sound of those words being pronounced. It was so different to what we spoke at home! As they grew, my kids would come home with the book that they had heard or they would request that we get something similar. I love this post from the Kid World Citizen that talks about so many ways to create an environment with books and prints. This post by a Russian mama speaks about Fairy Tales and how she used them for her child.
- Videos bring the world to your living room : I let my kids watch videos and cartoons in all languages. We see songs from different countries on YouTube. I am strictly against screen time before the age of two but I will not deny that they have watched TV for a few minutes when they were tots. (We all need a breather!) When I have to choose screen time, I prefer rhymes over cartoons. There are so many channels on YouTube that you can watch with your baby or toddler. In fact, your child will actually benefit from them!
- Let kids see you speak in different languages with others too. My kids are amazed when they see me conversing with different people or watching me watch different language programs. ‘Mom is so cool! She understands everything!’ They would imitate me and talk to each other in gibberish while playing imagination. I remember my eldest son would talk ‘baby language’ with his baby sister. It was gibberish in reality… nothing made sense and it was only cooing and aah-ing but to me he would say, ‘Sorry, I am the only one who understands and speaks baby language. Grown-ups cannot speak that’. It was like they understood each other and their parents had no choice but to give in.
- Let them have friends (real or imaginary) who speak different languages. It doesn’t have to be only real life friends because they can be imaginary too. My kids have had an only Urdu speaking stuffed lion. We also have monsters who speak Monster Language. 🙂
- Fill their world with texts and words. Do you have quotes, letters or languages in your home? This is one of the easiest of ways to help you child notice words: Have them everywhere around them- on clothes, on walls, in books, in photographs. This post in the Multicultural Kid Blogs about text filled environment perfectly resonates with what I am taking about. Frances here writes about a Spanish environment that she created. YOu can read here about all her efforts here too. Here is another example from another Spanish Mama to give you more ideas. All these ideas are fun ways that you can so easily incorporate in your life.
- Fill their words with Bold patterns and shapes too so that they learn to recognize the different way different languages are written. Kids notice more than we adults do. They have untrained minds and it amazes me how intelligent they are. I haven’t looked up on any research on this but by personal observation have noticed that when you have patterns and colors around children, they tend to take more interest in the words around them. I first started noticing my daughter trace on shapes after I made this Alphabet game on the floor for her. I found that she would often run her cars or align her blocks on whatever shapes she found. Like for example- on the rugs on the ground, cushions on the couch, murals, t-shirt designs… Everything caught her attention. This gave me the idea that I should make more of these patterns available to her. Two years later, now that she is in kindergarten, I am seeing the result of my effort. She has been very quick to learn all her alphabets in English as well as Arabic. She can also write the numbers. My eldest wasn’t writing so well at her age. I know I shouldn’t be comparing my kids but… I strongly feel that my effort of filling our environment with patterns and bold colors has helped her.
These are some of the ways that I am creating an environment for teaching languages to my children. There is an excellent video here by Anna from Russian Step by Step with advice for new or expecting moms that you can watch. There are some more additional resources that I have enjoyed here. I have a Pinterest board called Kids and the World that I pin resources on teaching children about the world to. You are welcome to follow it.
Tell me in the comments or on my Facebook Page if you have experience with creating an environment that teaches a child to learn languages. Are you raising a bilingual or multilingual child? How did you do it? I am always looking for more tips and advice to share. Thank you for reading this.
Follow Aysh Siddiqua’s board KIDS and the World on Pinterest.
Photo credit: Photo by sattva.