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Here is a question submitted by a reader.

Submitted on 2012/09/24 at 7:53 pm by Kayla at this blog

My main question/concern is how will I teach my children to read and write in 3 languages? They’ll obviously learn how to read and write in English because that is the speaking language of the school they’ll go to, but what about the other two? Also, how do I do it on top of their current studies? Will it be information overload?

And my response.

Do not blend 2 or 3 languages together. Teach in isolation.

Hi, thank you for your question. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that the school your child goes to only teaches the English language. If this is the case, you can dedicate an hour a day to learning a second language after school, just as you would with one hour of any discipline like swimming, soccer, tennis or dance. During this hour, the child must only listen to that language. Suppose he is taking up swimming lessons. If he is learning to swim, you cannot show him how to run in the water. Learning takes place when the subject is taught in isolation.

During that hour, do not slip back into speaking English to teach the child, no matter how tempting or daunting the situation becomes. If the child can only learn two words in that hour, then he will learn two words. But he would also have learnt how to process the two words as a second language learner. The next time he is asked what those two words are, he will be ready to answer.

For instance, when you first taught your child to a few things like ‘bread’ and ‘drink’, you would probably have shown him the bread (visual and audio) and a glass of drink as you said those words. Up to the age of 2 years old, the child would have seen and ate more bread than the number of times he says the word ‘bread’. We do this so frequently and regularly that we have forgotten that there is actually a process taking place. The relationship between word and object takes precedence to the verbal expression of the word. The key is listening. If we break down the process into steps, we are indeed showing our child how to speak and communicate with us in the language.

When I want my daughter to learn Mandarin, I switch my mind off from speaking or thinking any English word. Of course there will be challenges. The most challenging part is when I am unable to find the right word in Mandarin to explain to her. In this case, I do use the bilingual dictionary, but I will only read out the Mandarin translation. Then when it’s time to explanation, I use only Mandarin.

In our local school curriculum, we have only an hour session of second language everyday starting from pre-school. I suppose you can say that our children are better off. But the programme is more tough and becomes more demanding as they progress.

Regarding your concern whether this is information overload, I can think of two factors that can contribute to that.

  • The child is not constantly exposure to the language he is learning. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Two words a day will keep the child learning everyday. Language is NOT something you can pick up instantly and remember forever, not even a master can do that. It takes constant exposure and practise.
  • We expect the child to perform according to OUR expectations. We set standards and then make them achieve those standards. This is not fair. What is your standard or expectation? When my dad told us to study Mandarin, he wasn’t thinking anything but simply that it would be beneficial for us in future. He had never discussed what he had planned for our future. I was not good at the language but I was never told to drop the subject. Because we kept to our programme, the learning process has become part of our journey and we are now highly driven, independent and confident.

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