A significant downside of living in such an amazing cultural melting pot as Singapore is that the first language children from expat and bilingual families pick up is English.
Nearly everyone speaks English – from helpers to teachers, to those serving in restaurants and retail. Some children will fail to grasp their native languages properly unless certain steps are taken. Even if they do manage to speak in their mother tongue, they can lack finesse, fluency and any tell that they are in fact French, German, Egyptian or Brazilian.
Somewhat interestingly, it can also be a challenge for those from English-speaking countries – as some youngsters end up with a ‘mid-Atlantic or similar halfway accents that can create identity crises.
While the Singapore government takes measures to preserve the mother tongues of the Chinese, Tamils, and Malays, expats need to ensure that their children get a semblance of high-level education ‘as mother tongue’.
Here are our top five tips on making the best of it while away from your home country:
While your child might not be able to speak the family language (or languages) yet, you can. Use your native tongue whenever you deem appropriate so that the language, accents, and nuances become familiar.
As children develop, they should be encouraged to speak in their mother tongues and have conversations with family members and friends back home by video call, as well as participating at social events when groups are speaking those languages at home – or at a BBQ.
It is similarly important to make sure that children do not associate their mother tongue with being scolded or yelled at – this will create negative connotations. This is especially important if one parent is a native English language speaker and the other is trying to get their children to learn their language.
2. Tell stories
Storytelling is a powerful tool for language acquisition. A favourite is to spend a few nights a week – perhaps alternate storytimes – reading or singing to the children in their mother tongue. This will help them learn more about their countries and cultures, as well as assist them to get to know the stories that mum and dad heard when they were children.
3. Play games
Game playing in the mother tongue is also a winner as children will have to try to read and interact in the language to take part. Naming cities, places, or animals is simple and fun. As is word association. This can be done while travelling and doesn’t need any props.
Gamifying the process of learning a language is as old as speaking itself and is the best way to learn – all the while having a laugh and some fun. Once your child starts beating you at your own game, the sense of satisfaction can be overwhelming!
4. Link it
Look for an activity that your young child likes doing when speaking in their mother tongue. For instance, if they like to play with a toy or a game in that language, make sure that it’s always around them. Associating the language with an enjoyable activity will build their skills and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
5. Get them hooked
Every language has interesting facets, usually coupled to the relevant culture. Food, movies, festivals, traditions, and places – travelling to their home countries is essential. Memory association is critical.
Special times spent in mother lands speaking mother tongues leaves a lasting impression – which will get them hooked on the language, leaving them yearning for knowledge.
If you can’t travel, make your native foods at home and talk about them – naming ingredients in the language and explaining that these special treats are usually eaten at a native festival.
Special languages as extracurricular activities (ECAs) are available at Astor – we will run any specific language class for groups of 4 and more. Please click here for more details.
Find out more about Astor International School by booking a tour here.