Here are some helpful tips for you to decide on your choices of non-native language for your child.
1. What is native language?
It is simply the mother tongue of the child or the language that the parent or caregiver will be at home with the child. In some countries, the native language of the family is not used as regularly as the language used in school and community. For example, many Malay and Chinese families in Singapore are speaking more English. However, English does not replace the nature of which defines mother tongue or native language which is very closely related to ethnic culture and traditions. For instance, native words such as “Idul Fitri”, “Baju Kurong”, “Cheong Sam” or native surnames like “Tan”, Lim, Binte (or daughter of) or Bin (or son of) are not English by nature. In fact, many things are not named in English.
English as a non-native language serves its purpose as an agreed form of communication to unite people from different culture and traditions. Singapore’s language of administration for the state is English, the national language of the country is Malay. So the national song written by Zubir Said is sung in Malay, and the national pledge is written and read in English.
2. Do you really need your child to learn a non-native language?
It is naturally difficult for parents to say an ‘no’ to this question. Of course, evey parent wants their children to speak more than 1 language especially when people around the world are getting close to one another. We also see people speaking non-native languages with ease; grow their business with other nations. You start telling yourself, “My child and I really do need to learn Mandarin because it is good for my business and his future.”
Speak to yourself again. If you are now reading this text in English and for many years, you have been living English, why not stick to the status quo; raise your child the way you know best. It is not necessary to spend money on an entire language programme which you would never use in the next 10 years anyway.
2. What are the native and national languages of your country?
If you were born in Indonesia but are raised in Australia, it is not surprising you will hear more English than Bahasa Indonesia. If you wish your child to keep his identity as the country of birth, it would be wise for him to learn his native tongue because as a citizen, he will definitely want to feel the sense of belonging to his country. I have met many Indonesian Chinese who cannot read or write Mandarin; yet they prosper in their business because they do not spend time worrying how much they do not know but enjoy the language and culture of the people they are born to live with.
Your child spends most his time in school, at home and of course with you. It is imperative to cater to his need to communicate with his personal community then what you feel is needed for him when he leaves your side. Choose a language you know you can at least find the resource to help him grow. It is imperative to bring the child to live with the community or society that speaks the language on a daily basis (exposure, experience and explore).
3. What is a foreign language?
A foreign language simply means a language which is not spoken by any other races or ethnic groups in your country of residence. For example, the national language of Singapore is Malay, the other languages not foreign to the people of Singapore are Mandarin, English and Tamil. Foreign languages would be French, Spanish, Tagalog, Italian or Hebrew. English is known as a first language. Henceforth, before registering your child in a foreign language, ensure that you have excess to the resources (books, people, libraries and culture) to help him grow in his learning.
4. Is your child exposed to the new language on a daily, weekly or monthly basis?
Support your child. The purpose of learning a language is to give progression in life and communicate our needs in words that are easily understandable by others. Please do not put pressure on yourself or your child to learn a new or foreign language.
It took me about 3 years of work on my daughter to speak 3-4 languages, but each language is taught at different pace, time and place. She did demonstrate the ability to acquire language and most of the time she responded spontaneously rather than deliberately. I chose Mandarin as a language for her even though it is not our native tongue because I had studied the language for years in school.