Bilin­gual Smarter

Young Parents (Singapore) - - The Baby Years -

videos such as Baby Ein­stein, which are also avail­able in dif­fer­ent lan­guages. Au­dio books with ac­com­pa­ny­ing pic­ture books are good ex­po­sure as well,” Melissa shares.

En­cour­age Ju­nior to prac­tise what you’ve both learnt – per­haps you could even let him take the lead and play “teacher” with you, too.

USE IT OR LOSE IT

Im­mer­sion is the key to mas­ter­ing lan­guage, so try to con­stantly ex­pose your baby to it as part of ev­ery­day life.

“In Sin­ga­pore, we are for­tu­nate that there are many so­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties where dif­fer­ent lan­guages are spo­ken,” Huang Ying says. This could be at the hawker cen­tre, com­mu­nity cen­tre, or even chit-chat­ting with neigh­bours.

VISIT THE GRAND­PAR­ENTS

You can also en­list the help of Grandpa and Grandma. “If you have mul­ti­lin­gual fam­ily mem­bers, make an ef­fort to take ad­van­tage of it and have them speak to your baby in the lan­guages reg­u­larly from the be­gin­ning,” says Melissa.

Rais­ing a bilin­gual baby is a ded­i­cated, fam­ily af­fair. “The main chal­lenge is for the par­ents. There must be con­tin­u­ous ef­fort made to in­cor­po­rate the lan­guage on a reg­u­lar, if not daily, ba­sis. It should be ex­pe­ri­enced on a holis­tic level, or what is re­ferred to as ‘know­ing and liv­ing the lan­guage’,” she con­cludes.

A tall or­der, but one that can be ac­com­plished more eas­ily the ear­lier you start in­tro­duc­ing Baby to lan­guages. Lit­tle two-year-old Sum­mer Tan spends her af­ter­noons watch­ing English car­toons and read­ing Chi­nese sto­ry­books with her mother.

Ex­posed to both lan­guages, the en­er­getic tot ef­fort­lessly switches be­tween English and Man­darin when she speaks. Sci­ence says she stands to ben­e­fit from this abil­ity.

Bilin­gual in­fants such as Sum­mer are able to learn a third lan­guage more eas­ily, a study by Na­tional Univer­sity of Sin­ga­pore (NUS) re­searchers found.

They are able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween words from an un­known for­eign lan­guage, un­like their mono­lin­gual coun­ter­parts.

“That sug­gests that the win­dow on fur­ther lan­guage ac­qui­si­tion had started to close on mono­lin­gual chil­dren but was very much open for the bilin­gual chil­dren,” says As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Le­her Singh from the NUS depart­ment of psy­chol­ogy.

Dur­ing the nine-month study, in­fants who were solely ex­posed to English and those who knew English and Man­darin were ex­posed to the south­ern African lan­guage, Nde­bele.

In one ex­per­i­ment, the 40 in­fants were shown an im­age and at the same time read a Nde­bele word.

Af­ter that, they were shown the same im­age, but this time, a dif­fer­ent word was read out to them. The bilin­gual chil­dren de­tected the change in sound, while the mono­lin­gual chil­dren did not.

The con­clu­sion was made us­ing a method that tracks the time that they spent look­ing at an ob­ject on a com­puter screen while the word was read out to them. More fix­a­tion time when the tone changed re­flects a sur­prised re­sponse, in­di­cat­ing that they were sen­si­tive to the dif­fer­ences.

The find­ing, pub­lished in sci­en­tific jour­nal Child Devel­op­ment last year, fur­ther sup­ports the the­ory that ex­pos­ing chil­dren to two lan­guages at the same time has cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits.

An ear­lier study by Prof Singh and her team found that bilin­gual ba­bies can mas­ter the rules of each lan­guage faster than mono­lin­gual ba­bies.

A child learns a lan­guage fastest from birth to the age of three. In the past peo­ple used to think teach­ing a child two lan­guages at the same time would ham­per the early learn­ing process for both lan­guages, Prof Singh says.

She adds: “This study sug­gests par­ents try­ing to raise bilin­gual chil­dren shouldn’t worry about that, and in fact we should be aware of the fact that it is ben­e­fi­cial to chil­dren.”

Know­ing this puts Sum­mer’s mother, Au­drey Wu, 38, at ease. The housewife had ini­tially lim­ited Sum­mer’s lan­guage ex­po­sure to English as she had read that teach­ing ba­bies two lan­guages con­cur­rently would con­fuse them.

But see­ing how Sum­mer could not com­mu­ni­cate with her grand­par­ents, who speak Man­darin, Au­drey de­cided to teach her the lan­guage as well.

“It’s a re­lief to know this will not have any bad ef­fects on her lan­guage devel­op­ment, but will in fact en­hance it,” Au­drey says.

– THE STRAITS TIMES

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