Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Bringing baby up bi-lingual

As many of you know, it's Maori language week this week. I always enjoy Maori language week, especially seeing how every year a little more of the language is used in mainstream media - yesterday the cities in the weather on the news were called by their Maori names, the NZ Herald changed their masthead, and my gym instructor talked about it. This is Amotai's first Maori language week, though, and it has got me thinking: how can I bring up a bi-lingual child? The studies detailing the benefit of a second language are endless - it's good for brain development, cultural awareness, and helps children learn other languages later. But, in practice, how can I bring up Amotai learning another language? Especially when my second-language skills are limited to basic Maori, conversational but not fluent Italian, basic Spanish, and one German module entitled "in the supermarket"?

Like many other aspects of parenting, this is one area where I had grand ideas before he was born, but in practice am probably letting speaking other languages slide far too much. We give him a lot of phrases in Maori, and there are some things I say to him in Italian over and over. But, that really won't cut it in terms of actually teaching him a language. We enrolled him in a Maori language creche, but when it came to the crunch decided on the better one down the road. The only Spanish he's likely to be exposed to is Dora the Explorer when we start letting him watch TV. I like the idea of a Kohanga Reo in theory, but really want to send him to this other creche instead for other reasons.  We sing him songs and read him books in other languages, but there is a large gap between doing that and teaching him to be bi-lingual, especially when neither of us are truly bi-lingual ourselves.

Does anyone have any tips of how to make this work? Do we just need to be more focused in terms of trying to use other languages and stop putting this into the theoretical "later" box? Or do what my parents did - encourage a student exchange so he learns another language albiet later?

1 comment:

Julie said...

Being a parent of a bilingual child and a linguistics Masters holder, the only way a child will truly be bilingual is if (s)he has access to that language about 30% of the time, which means books, tele, people. Until the age of about 3, for them there is only 1 language and different ways to say things and they associate the 2 ways with different people 'mummy talk' and 'daddy talk'. M doesn't say real words yet except for the dog's name, but she already babbles 2 ways. When she gives something to her Papa she says 'ten' (tiens) and when she gives something to me she says 'da' (there). But a young child will only accept this sort of thing if it's always been that way. A boy at M's creche who is a week older than her has a Puerto rican father but he didn't start talking to his eldest child in Spanish until she was a year old, by which time she would just cry 'cause she couldn't understand so he gave up on speaking spanish to her and when little brother came along he didn't even bother to try. All this being said, speaking some bits in other languages, like the way most NZers know some Maori vocab, can help with accent and future language learning.