Look who’s talking
In this age of global nomads, Karen Iley discovers there has never been a better opportunity for expat kids to learn a second language
Thanks to more and more parents working abroad, kids are finding themselves in a new environment where a second language is essential for survival, or, at least, key to making life a whole lot easier.
As a parent who has tried – and failed – to master any language other than English, I want to spare my tots the monotony and frustration that comes with verb tables and vocabulary tests. If that’s the case, experts say I should start now. Young kids are like little sponges, learning at an alarming rate and soaking up all sorts of valuable information (including some details you’d rather they ignore). ‘Being raised with one or more languages is a gift for life,’ says Silke Rehman, founder of the Multilingual Network in Dubai. ‘It means access to another culture, heightened self-esteem, increased career options and more flexible and divergent thinking.’
Contrary to popular myth, growing up learning two, three or even more languages is not confusing to kids. Nor does it slow down speech and development or hold them back at school, as long as mums and dads provide the right support and make sure their kids are exposed to the language in a consistent and structured way. ‘Kids can grow up with several languages without any issue,’ says Rehman. ‘The brain is capable of learning lots of languages. The limit is only the capability and energy of the parents.’
Of course, the earlier you start, the better. Teach a child a foreign language from the day they’re born and they’ll be able to remember and differentiate sounds they hear during the first months of life. ‘If a baby hears Chinese on a regular basis, he’ll be able to distinguish between sounds that, to us adults, would all sound the same,’ she says. But, she warns, if those sounds are not repeated regularly, the brain, in its efficiency, ditches them in favour of new knowledge.
But don’t panic. It’s never too late for an older child to pick up a new lingo. In fact, you’ll be amazed at how quickly they can learn, provided you decide on a clear strategy and stick to it. Many kids over here are fortunate enough to have mum speaking one language and dad another, but even this ‘one person, one language’ method requires parental commitment.
Time Out Dubai,