Expert Articles

Bilingual Learning for Young Children

Author: Rohnii Tse
Lecturer at Yew Chung College of Early Childhood Education / Speech Therapist

Most children have the ability to learn multiple languages. The more exposure they have to languages, the easier it is for young children to learn and master them. Bilingual learning is crucial for the language development of children aged 0–3 because their brains are undergoing significant development during this period, and they have a strong capacity for language learning and comprehension. The Australian Speech Therapy Association highlights several factors that influence children’s language learning abilities, including:

  • Age of language learning
  • Opportunities for communication in the language
  • Exposure to the language through listening
  • Places and environments where the language is used
  • Motivation for children to use the language

The earlier children are exposed to a language, the easier it is for them to learn and integrate the phonetic systems of that language, which benefits their overall language abilities and development.

Creating a positive language attitude and environment is crucial for the development of multiple languages in young children. Children are highly sensitive to the attitudes and opinions of those around them, so demonstrating a positive attitude towards multilingual learning at home, school, and within the community helps children appreciate the uniqueness and value of being able to use multiple languages, which contributes to their multilingual development.

Parents can guide their children’s bilingual learning through the following aspects:

1. Creating a rich language environment

Creating a rich language environment is a fundamental aspect of bilingual learning for young children. Parents can engage in conversations, read storybooks, sing songs, tell jokes, and employ other methods to create a rich language environment. Additionally, parents can expose children to different language cultures, such as by watching foreign films or animations and listening to foreign songs, which helps broaden their language horizons.

2. Using a bilingual, alternating approach

Parents should communicate with their children using a bilingual alternating approach, which promotes learning and comprehension of both languages. It is worth noting to avoid switching languages within the same conversation, such as saying, “是時候去take a bath” (It’s time to take a bath). This kind of switching can make language decoding more challenging for children. Instead, parents can use one language to ask a question and then answer it in the other language, allowing children to better understand the relationship between the two languages. Furthermore, parents can actively encourage children to express their thoughts in both languages, which boosts their language confidence.

3. Correcting language errors

During the process of learning two languages, children may encounter challenges like mixing up the two languages or using incorrect word order, grammar, or pronunciation. Parents can help children overcome these issues by correcting errors and encouraging them to use language correctly. For example, when a child uses incorrect grammar or pronunciation, parents can provide a correct language model and encourage the child to imitate the correct way of expressing themselves.

It is important to note the technique of correction. It is not necessary to point out every mistake directly. Instead, parents can repeat the child’s speech using the correct pronunciation or words, allowing the child to listen to the correct usage and enhancing their opportunities for learning through listening without diminishing their motivation to learn the language due to mistakes. For example:

Child: 多多 (older brother)

Parent: Ah, you saw “哥哥” (older brother), right? Yes. That’s “哥哥.” Let’s call “哥哥” to play together!

These measures can help young children learn and use two languages more effectively and contribute to their future learning and development. Most importantly, parents should consistently monitor their children’s language development, promptly identify any issues, and resolve them early, which helps children build healthy language abilities and confidence.

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Bilingual Learning for Young Children