Why kids should learn an­other lan­guage

Rais­ing mul­ti­lin­gual chil­dren in the UAE

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE - glaiza@7days.ae

In the UAE, where peo­ple from all over the world and all walks of life come to­gether, proper com­mu­ni­ca­tion is cru­cial. Ex­perts say rais­ing bilin­gual or mul­ti­lin­gual chil­dren to­day is rel­e­vant to pro­mote cul­tural un­der­stand­ing, di­ver­sity, and long-term per­sonal de­vel­op­ment.

Chris­tine Ja­cob, Head of Lan­guages at the Swiss In­ter­na­tional Science School Dubai (SISD), says most par­ents in the UAE al­ready speak more than one lan­guage and kids learn­ing dif­fer­ent lan­guages is only nat­u­ral and should be highly en­cour­aged.

“It helps us all to live and work to­gether here. Ev­ery­where on the planet, chil­dren share the same mu­sic, books, movies,” she ex­plains.

“They are also trav­el­ling more than the older gen­er­a­tions. They are cu­ri­ous about new lan­guages and ea­ger to learn new words, ex­pres­sions.”

Ja­cob enu­mer­ates the ben­e­fits of mul­ti­lin­gual­ism: bet­ter at fo­cus­ing on rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion and ig­nor­ing dis­trac­tions; more cre­ative and bet­ter at plan­ning; stu­dents have an eas­ier time un­der­stand­ing math con­cepts and solv­ing word prob­lems; and ac­cord­ing to re­search bilin­gual­ism may de­lay the on­set of Alzheimer’s dis­ease. It’s also ad­van­ta­geous in the labour mar­ket.

Ja­cob says be­ing able to speak French, Ger­man and English opened op­por­tu­ni­ties for her and her kids. “They say they love feel­ing at home ev­ery­where they’re trav­el­ling.”

But some would ar­gue that grow­ing up speak­ing two or more lan­guages may con­fuse the child and can de­lay speech. Ja­cob sheds light on this: “As dif­fer­ent lan­guage sys­tems are con­nected, a child ‘mixes’ two dif­fer­ent lan­guages.

“It can hap­pen when a word is miss­ing in one lan­guage, and the child will re­place it by a word in the other lan­guage. This kind of mis­take is not a proof of con­fu­sion, but shows how the lan­guage sys­tems are de­vel­op­ing.”

She adds it’s never too late to learn: “The suc­cess de­pends on the reg­u­lar ex­po­sure to the lan­guage, on the en­vi­ron­ments and lan­guage in­puts.

“How­ever, re­search ad­mits learn­ing an ad­di­tional lan­guage as a young child al­lows a bet­ter ac­cent and pro­nun­ci­a­tion.”

Par­ents Elis­a­beth and Leo Le­fort speak their na­tive French, English, a bit of Ger­man, Span­ish and oc­ca­sional Amharic (Ethiopian di­alect) to their kids. “Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, lan­guage be­ing one as­pect, will def­i­nitely help them col­lab­o­rate, think cre­atively, look at things with mul­ti­ple point of views,” says Elis­a­beth, who is a French teacher in SISD. But they also place im­por­tance on pre­serv­ing their mother tongue. Leo adds: “Re­search shows the mother tongue is of high im­por­tance in sup­port­ing a child’s lin­guis­tic ac­qui­si­tion.

“We usu­ally mix bed­time sto­ries in English or French. Same for films, we pre­fer orig­i­nal ver­sions of car­toons and cu­rate very care­fully other pro­grammes they may en­joy watch­ing.”

Hav­ing lived in Canada, Rima Ay­oub’s chil­dren’s first lan­guage is English. But as Canadian-Le­banese, it’s cru­cial for them to learn Ara­bic. She says pri­vate tu­tor­ing is ex­pen­sive but very help­ful: “It’s im­por­tant for them to have that skill so they can com­mu­ni­cate with fam­ily when­ever we are in Le­banon. We al­ways prac­tice Ara­bic at home. They are still so young that’s why I think it’s im­por­tant to start them early so they might do bet­ter as they get older.”

PAR­ENT: Elis­a­beth Le­fort and kids, Eden and Tom

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