“CONTRARY to common belief, children are quite capable of understanding and moving across languages from an early age. Bilingualism has wrongly been blamed for learning difficulties in children of migrant families.
Research shows that learning a second language both "builds on the first language and consolidates it". Children do not become confused when they are exposed in their early years to two or more languages, any more than confusion arises when they hear two parents expressing themselves differently in the same language. Like multilingual adults, children often use words from one language when speaking the other but this does not mean they are getting mixed up. They are simply switching between two or more modes of expression.”
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Children also can take on a lot more than one thinks. When speaking French to my 3 year-old son, I was baffled that some of his little friends were also responding to my comments. His little friends are not French or particularly exposed to foreign languages. So why is this happening?
My own personal theory is that, as we grow up we expect more and more not to be able to understand foreign utterances-not only different languages but also different accents. Young children seem to be much more able to use context and common sense to work out what they want to find out about. As we grow older, our sense of identity is intrinsically linked to our mother tongue. This is why I often hear this typical comment from teenagers raised in a monolingual environment: “I don't want to speak French. I am English!”, as if using another language was a threat to their identity...
This report from the Scottish Languages Review shows how much young children can benefit from a rich foreign languages input at an early stage of their school career.
John Clifford states that “The fact only three percent of books published in Britain are translations from other languages indicates the degree to which other cultures tend not to be valued in Britain.
Much significant contemporary material exists only in the original language. The lack of importance attached to language teaching in schools and now some universities, means that many of us are unable to absorb documents and other writing, even to converse, in the major European and other languages. As a consequence we are astonishingly remote from our neighbours in the wider world - and increasingly in our midst.”
Latest estimates show that more than half the world's population live in 'multilingual' areas, with 23 official languages, and hundreds of immigrant minority languages spoken in Europe alone.
Dr Priscilla Clarke, executive director, FKA Children's Services, Australia, said that language hierarchies can have a profound effect on children's learning.
She said: “The devaluing of children's home culture and indigenous language can result in a loss of feeling of self-worth, loss of intimacy and the ability to build relationships, and, crucially, loss of motivation for learning.”
It is not new, England has always been multilingual!
The issues linked with students taking qualifications in their home language and the differences between mfl and community languages teaching are presented in this report, which could be the basis of a healthy discussion about raising the profile of community languages in your school
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