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Bilingual children: is it possible to teach a child several languages ​​from the cradle?

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Bilingual from birth
Today there are many families where children learn to speak two (or more) languages ​​at once. Parents sometimes hire a nanny or governess who speaks a foreign language, and often “teach” themselves, especially since mixed marriages, and therefore parents who speak different languages, are not uncommon. People who speak two languages ​​are called bilinguals (with a successful set of circumstances, they master the two languages ​​perfectly). Especially good if the "training" begins right from birth. Opinions of researchers about the consequences of this phenomenon are different today. Some say that you can’t perfectly master two languages ​​at once - “you’ll chase two birds with one stone ...”, others say that speakers of two languages ​​are twice as rich in cultural terms, the first statement is very doubtful, since the human brain is very plastic, there are people who speak not two, but a much larger number of languages. The legitimacy of the second depends on the situation in which the child masters the language. From the level of language proficiency of the parents themselves and the positive attitude of the baby to both languages ​​(and cultures).
One language - one parent
This version is considered classic, it has been used for almost 100 years in different countries, it was first formulated by M. Grammont, a French linguist. M. Grammont described the principles of this method, giving advice to his friends who wanted the child they expected to speak French and German. His instructions were: “Do not teach a child anything. It is enough to speak with him in one of those languages ​​that he needs to learn. The bottom line is that each language should be personified in different personalities. Never change roles. In this case, the child will begin to speak two languages, not noticing this, and without much effort. " Thus, the mother had to speak only German in her child, and her father in French. Grammont's friends followed all his advice exactly. Their child, Louis, already at 2 years old distinguished languages, at 3 years 5 months precisely pronounced phonemes of both languages, spoke both languages ​​as native, by 3 years 10 months.
Since then, many studies and observations have confirmed that when a child is brought up according to the principle of M. Grammont “one parent - one language”, then 1) two languages ​​are acquired at the same time, 2) at the level of use there is no mixing of these two languages, 3) from a very early As children age, they strive to use all possible language features. When each parent speaks only his own language, the child has an idea about the connection of the language with the scope (for example, “mother’s words” and “father’s words”), sometimes two words from different languages ​​are used together (as if with a translation). There is nothing wrong with it - it will pass over time. Keep in mind that at first a small child may not understand at all what they speak in different languages. He seems to be mechanically answering in the language in which he is addressed.
This principle can be realized not only by parents, but also by friends, relatives, nannies, governesses. It is important that they spend a lot of time with the child, speaking the same language. In each of the two languages, several people can speak with the child, the main thing is that each person always uses only one language when referring to the child. If this is possible, then it is also advisable to speak the same language with other people. In this case, the child will quickly realize the difference between the two languages ​​spoken with him, and less will mix units of these languages. It is considered permissible for parents to communicate with each other in different languages, over time, the child will understand that he himself can communicate in two languages. But up to three or four years, a child can be made easier by saying clearly and “not jumping from language to language”. If the family has more than one child, let him choose what language he will communicate with his brother or sister.
One language - one situation
This principle allows us to separate two languages ​​according to their places of application. Most often, the “home” language (spoken in the family) and the language spoken with the child outside the home are selected. This principle is especially effective if at home everyone speaks a language that is not spoken in society, for example, in Russia all family members communicate at home in English, and in other places in Russian. However, to apply this principle, everyone needs to be bilingual.
This principle can also be applied within the home: in one room, speak, for example, in English (arrange it as "English"), in other places communicate in Russian. For a child to want to be in the "English" room, it must be attractive to the child (toys, books, TV, computer, etc.). Parents should set an example of behavior in the "English" room, talking there only in English (or keep quiet if they do not know how to speak English.

... with mom - in Russian, with dad - in Spanish, with grandmothers - in Catalan, and with friends - in French ...

- Olga, how did you get the idea to raise a son with a bilingual? How old is he now, and what languages ​​does he speak?

- I studied at the Faculty of Philology, therefore I am fluent in several foreign languages: Italian, Spanish, French and English. Everyone who has ever studied foreign languages ​​knows very well that constant practice is simply necessary to maintain a certain level. Therefore, someone communicates at work, someone reads books, and someone watches movies in the original. And what to do when your main activity is not related to foreign languages ​​and you need to support several at once? Someone of my friends joked about this: “And you choose the days of the week for all languages, on Monday you will read the book in Italian, on Tuesday in Spanish and so on.” It seems to me that under such a regime, she did not go crazy for long, but she did not check on herself.

And if you put aside all the jokes, then I understand perfectly that you need to start learning a second foreign language as soon as possible, then mastering it is much easier.

I think no one will argue with the fact that our parents speak foreign languages ​​much worse than modern students, so I did not want to delay this process with my child.

After graduation, many of my classmates went to different countries, got married there, gave birth to children. Despite the distances, we continue to communicate to this day, and I sincerely admire how their children are fluent in three (and sometimes four) languages ​​already at the age of 5–6. And all this is so natural, without stress. And all because languages ​​learn at the same time: communication with the mother exclusively in Russian, with the father in Spanish, with grandmothers in Catalan, and with friends in French.

There are no foreigners in our family, and we live in Russia, so there was only one option to grow bilingual - I consciously switch to a foreign language. By the way, the choice in favor of Italian was made exclusively for love (laughs - author's note). If you switch to some foreign language, then to the one that you like best and which you know best. As a result, his son is now three and a half years old and he speaks Italian and Russian.

- Comparing the son with peers, what are the advantages of this approach to education? What prospects does he give the child?

- Comparing with peers now does not make much sense - none of them still speaks any language other than Russian. All only in 3-4 years begin to learn English.

Learning a second language I often compare with teaching swimming. If the child begins to master this lesson in 3-4 months, then by the age of three he will already be able to swim independently on his own. Then he can begin to learn to ski, say, on skis. And if you give it to the pool only in three years, then, of course, this process will take much more time, and parallel classes in different sports can cause certain difficulties.
So with languages.

Of course, starting to learn a foreign language in 3-4 years, it is unrealistic to speak it fluently in a year, unless you completely plunge into this environment.

Therefore, it seems to me, it would be more appropriate to compare my son at ten years old, when his peers will already know some foreign language. It will then be clear which of the guys is faster at mastering new grammar and vocabulary.

What is the basis for teaching kids?

The developing brain of the child easily and freely picks up a second language, and mastery of it occurs on an intuitive level. This happens naturally when the family lives in another country. Fortunately, modern means of communication to some extent allows us to create a language environment in another country at home.

For the successful implementation of this, it is necessary that one of the family members (ideally, mom) is fluent in English. Fluency is the ability to communicate relaxedly and effortlessly with a child in a language that he will learn.

In English, mom should be able to:

  • read a story
  • to praise
  • explain the meaning of words heard in cartoons, or simply objects that interest the child,
  • ask for something to do - and much more.

Young children are very sensitive to the psychological state of the mother, and if she strains, trying to remember the pronunciation of any words, or she is uncomfortable with speaking English, classes will not bring the child joy. English for children of 2 years old is not so much a training as a way of communicating a parent with a child in a foreign language.

If the mother does not speak the language at the level of fluent speaking, it is better to invite an English-speaking nanny.

It is worth remembering that language is a means of communication. And to master it and the subsequent development of skills, it should be actively used.

How to teach a two year old child English?

It is not worth organizing classes with young children; Mastering English should take place in a calm form of ordinary communication or games. The more complete the language environment parents can create, the easier and faster the child will understand that a second language is a means of full communication.

Ideally, parents should:

  • communicate with each other or with friends (even specially hired tutors) at home in English,
  • often keep an English channel on TV turned on,
  • to speak with the child in the language being studied, actively using the gesture component, as it happens in Russian, when he is invited to come up or asked to give or take something.

Learning English should occur in the same way as teaching Russian: an object or action is shown, called, repeated several times.

You should not use any single subjects for learning a language - for example, cards for a game. The child will remember that the cat in the figure of this particular set is called a cat, but in the absence of live communication, he may not transfer this knowledge to all other cats, including toy and living cats. Therefore, to study a word, you need to show the baby several objects called this word. They need to be stocked up in advance. So, a cup is a toy from a crockery doll set, a tea room brought from the kitchen, a drawing on a card. The bear - plastic, plush, painted, photographed - several images and toys at once. Verbs are quite simple to learn - showing the child a “walking hand”, a “walking” doll, taking several steps around it, you need to comment: “Hand goes, doll goes, mom goes”, and then just ask, addressing the child himself by name: "(Name) - go!".

In order to better immerse yourself in the language environment and create a psychologically comfortable environment, it is advisable for adults to put their household English into an active state - to communicate with each other or at least on the Internet, and even better if mom agrees with her friends, hires a tutor for communication, or an English-speaking nanny.

How to plan classes?

You should not make hard plans - the success of training will largely depend on the mood of the baby. It is worth starting classes with those items and activities that attract the child himself. The first step is to learn the names of your favorite toys and what they can do: a car drives, the ball rolls, the doll sleeps or wants to eat.

Unlike school programs, where children can know the words from the humanities and don’t know the word “blanket,” the baby needs to be called and actively used in speech to identify household items from his still small world - a bed, toys, clothes, dishes, food and others. A foreign language for babies at an early age is simple, they can easily remember a fairly large amount of information.

At first, it is enough if the child learns to understand and repeat words and short phrases. Then you need to provoke him to answer, turning to him at the moments when he is active and ready to communicate, and try to make English an active language.

If the baby is in a bad mood, is naughty or tired and does not want to communicate at all, do not put pressure on him.

Another nuance is that in order for the child to speak faster, you need to help him learn the phrases with which he will be able to contact his parents:

Also, one of the first words should be pronouns - in conjunction with them it is easier to learn verbs: “I draw, you draw, the doll draws. Can a cat draw? No, he can’t. He can speak meow and jump. ”

What benefits should you use?

English for children 2 years old is not more complicated than Russian. You simply include a second language in your daily routine and use the same textbooks for learning English as for mastering your native language. Moreover, at an early age, you can even put more emphasis on a foreign language, since in Russian there will be communication in kindergarten, on the street with peers, with other family members who do not speak English.

For a full and high-quality education, parents will need:

  • books with beautiful and attractive pictures,
  • educational cards with objects,
  • small and large toys,
  • audio books for babies in English,
  • cartoons in english
  • television channels where the broadcast is in English.

There are resources on the network where you can watch cartoons and films in the original language online.

English should often sound in the background when a child plays or has a rest - adults can talk on it, discussing something, there can be broadcasts or films on TV, you can include an audiobook. Even in the case when the baby does not understand? he will subconsciously assimilate the sound composition of the language, intonation and the melody of speech, will try to repeat something.

The main mistakes in learning

The wrong approach to learning a second language can lead to the fact that the baby will experience stress when using it, get confused, mix languages, and with further socialization - for example, starting to go to a Russian-language kindergarten - simply refuses to speak it.

  • When living in Russia, the “one situation - one language” approach will be wrong. If only game activity will occur in English, for a child he will remain a strange way of communicating with his mother during games.
  • Communication with only one native speaker often leads to the fact that the child learns all his mistakes.
  • Frequent transitions from one language to another and mixing of Russian and English phrases in one situation by the parents themselves. The basis of communication with the baby at this age is feelings and emotions, the child will intuitively understand the phrases addressed to him without translation. They do not have to be complicated.
  • English can begin to be perceived negatively by the child if the activities for him are uncomfortable. For example, the mother does not know the language well, tries to avoid any phrases. Or, while using English, mom is serious and focused, doesn’t laugh, does not rejoice, is not passionate about playing with her child, but “performs a learning function”. Children feel subtlety very subtly, and in this case the child will have the association "English = serious and boring mother", he will unconsciously protest against it.
  • A special understatement of the used amount of lexical material for fear of overloading the child. This can provoke a situation when the child wants to say something, but he does not have enough words. This will cause irritation and moods.

Learning English with a baby is a challenge for parents, they will have to do a lot of work on themselves. In addition to the undoubted benefits for the child, this is a very interesting personal experience, as well as a way of self-development for adults.

“Myths about bilinguals are spread by the parents themselves”

- There are a lot of fears about bilingual children: they are more difficult to adapt among peers, in their speech there is a mixture of languages ​​- of the two they choose the most easily pronounced and use them at their discretion. What other fears and myths do you hear from others? And what can you answer?

- All these fears were invented by mothers, so that if a child has any problems, justify their child. After all, everyone knows the fear that your child is worse than the neighbor. «Боже, соседский мальчик уже давно ходит, а мой даже встать не пытается!», «Твой уже стихи читает? А мой даже говорить ещё не начал!».

В таких ситуациях всегда можно найти оправдание того, что твой ребёнок начал говорить позже. «Конечно, мой-то билингв, ему сложнее, чем твоему. Он одновременно осваивает два языка. Билингвы всегда позже начинают говорить», — с видом знатока может заявить довольная собой мамочка.

This myth spread with rapid speed, and now everyone with the word "bilingual" instantly pops up, "lags behind," "later began to speak."

In general, this is not so. Children perfectly (much better than adults) cope with different parallel tasks. But myths exist in any sphere of life, and different scientists can confirm or deny them. But as far as bilingualism is concerned, all recent research suggests that myths are only myths. It’s enough to type the phrase “myths about bilingualism” in any search engine, and everything will immediately become clear.

- What advice can you give to parents who want to grow bilingual?

- Let's see how “bilingualism” differs from just good knowledge of a foreign language.

Bilingualism is an equally perfect command of two languages, the ability to equally use them in the necessary conditions of communication (definition from the dictionary) .Therefore, if we are talking about bilinguals, we need to start communicating in two languages ​​from the first days of life. Children must master them at the same time.

If we are talking about a Russian-speaking family, like ours, then communication in a foreign language with a child is a tremendous incentive for mothers. Suppose you learned the language at the institute, but over the years it has been a little forgotten. And here is a forced daily practice. And in the first months it’s easier to pull up your level, because the child will not yet ask about the structure of beetles, cars and the planet (laughs - author note). You can start watching movies, remember words, read books, in general, slowly pour in. You can even read aloud, then the child will immediately get used to the music of the language.

I commented in Italian everything that I did, and if difficulties arose with something, I looked in the dictionary. I was looking for video recipes in Italian. Thus, even without much practice with native speakers, the level of the language was tightened, and daily communication on it did not constitute a big problem.

At home, we communicate in two languages: I speak Russian with my husband, and if I turn to my son, I will automatically switch to Italian. At first there was confusion, but then everything settled down on the right shelves, and in certain situations one or another language is turned on. Like my son.

It is quite clear that Yegorik knows the words on culinary topics better in Italian, and everything related to tools is in Russian.

It is much more difficult to grow bilingual in a Russian-speaking family than in a mixed one. If Russian girls marry a foreigner and leave to live in another country, completely switch to another language, then communicating in the native country with the child is like an outlet. Therefore, there is nothing to learn, this happens naturally. We have a lot of such familiar families.

As I have already said, children aged 6–7 years can calmly know 3-4 languages. And indeed they are often more developed than their peers. But in general, comparing bilinguals and monolinguals is not entirely correct. After all, some children from six months go to various classes, while others do not. And, of course, the reason here is not only in bilingualism, but in a number of circumstances, in the approach of parents. Therefore, I compare only knowledge of foreign languages. I don’t touch the rest, because in European countries even the approach to early development and education is different.

As for bilinguals in Russian-speaking families, I know very few of them.
Although many were inspired by our history and followed suit, which I am incredibly glad. But their children, of course, are younger.

Author:Natalya Tyumentseva
Photo:from the personal archive of the Charcot family

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