• Real Mom Advice: How to Help Kids Learn Two Languages

    "Let your child learn different languages, don't limit it to just English."
    by Kitty Elicay .

  • Last August 2, we posted the article "How to Raise a Child Fluent in Filipino First" that had tips from teachers to help kids become fluent in Filipino first. As the author noted, children these days are not always raised with Filipino as their mother tongue especially those who live in the metro. English-only television shows and reading materials have made a child's exposure to Filipino as a language limited as well.

    While the teachers in our story acknowledged that English is a universal language and is essential in school and career, it doesn’t mean that learning Filipino should take a backseat. After all, subjects in school curriculums are still taught in our native tongue -- Araling Panlipunan, Hekasi (Heograpiya, Kasaysayan at Sibika), and Filipino.

    After sharing the article on SmartParenting.com.ph’s Facebook page, parents started speaking out in the comments section. Most agreed that both English and Filipino could be taught at home without having to worry about confusing the child. Some encouraged fellow parents to teach their children local dialects.

    Various studies show learning at least two languages can contribute to increased intelligence and make children more socially adept and in tune with others, compared to kids who only speak one language. Also, if you’re worried about confusing your child by talking to her in two different languages, research has shown that kids implicitly know when you’re speaking to them in various tongues.

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    Letting your child learn different languages at a young age can reap a lot of benefits. Here are some tips to help your child effectively communicate in a bilingual environment:

    1. Start speaking the languages at home. Whether you want to raise your child fluent in Filipino first, or if you’re more comfortable in another language, your kids need to hear it in actual, everyday conversation. “We spoke to our daughter using English at first, then when she turned 3, we mixed it up with Tagalog. Natututunan rin niya sa ibang playmates minsan [ang Tagalog], and I can say she’s fluent in both languages,” shares mom Alex Smith on our Facebook. "Siguro nasa bata rin and environment.”

    2. Expose your children to print and multimedia forms in different languages. Parents who commented on our article said that it was easy for children to learn English because they love watching TV shows and videos online in English. If you're looking for Filipino videos, The Knowledge Channel has a variety of educational shows that offer Filipino as a medium of instruction. But it’s also important to give them access to other materials like books, magazines, and comic books. “My grandson’s favorite subject is Filipino, and he likes to read his Lahing Dakila book,” shares Corazon Dumapias Yee in our Facebook. (For fun Filipino books, read more here and here.)

    3. Don’t be afraid to teach both languages at the same time. Research published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that babies who were already learning to speak two languages -- English and Mandarin were studied in this case -- mastered the rules of language faster than monolingual babies. They also found bilingual babies surpassed their monolingual peers when it came to vocabulary; they were able to learn new words more effectively.

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    One of our parents who commented on Facebook shares her experience. “Ever since my now 10-year-old child was born, I wanted him to be completely bilingual,” says mom Val Innis Samson. “Kids who are multilingual have more brain synapses or neuron connections since the brain needs to process two different language syntaxes. This will lead to higher IQ for the child. Ten years later, my child (who lived his first year in the Philippines and the rest abroad) speaks four languages including Filipino and English.

    "My advice to parents: let your child learn as many languages and dialects, and don't limit it to English. Let them speak to their yayas in yaya’s native tongue. The benefits of having more languages in the brain outweigh having to speak only English just for him to be ‘in’ in private schools.”

    During the first half of the 2oth century, researchers thought being bilingual lowered a child’s IQ, but we now know it's the opposite. In a New York Times article, author Yudhijit Bhattacharjee says, "There is ample evidence that in a bilingual's brain, both language systems are active even when he is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other. But this interference, researchers are finding out, isn't so much a handicap as a blessing in disguise. It forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles."

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    4. You can mix the languages. In our article, one of the teachers, Marigene Gallarin, personally does not promote the use of Taglish in her classroom. And one of our Facebook readers, Prinsesa Sta. Rosa agrees, saying, “’Yung ibang bata na-de-delay ang speech kapag Taglish ang salita. Tagalog muna tapos English or Chinese na [ang ituro]. Kasi sa mga estudyante kong English-speaking, hirap talaga sila sa Filipino.” 

    But there's also this research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It found that it was easier and faster for babies (and even adults) to understand what was being said when sentences were crossed.

    “One of the most obvious implications of these results is that we needn’t be concerned that children growing up bilingual will confuse their two languages,” said Janet Werker, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, in the release. She was not involved with the research. “Indeed, rather than being confused as to which language to expect, the results indicate that even toddlers naturally activate the vocabulary of the language that is being used in any particular setting,” she added.

    Bilingualism is highly encouraged for any child, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stresses that bilingual kids would become proficient in the languages they are taught by the time they are 5 years old. Just look at babies like Scarlet Snow Belo, who, at 2 years old, is already learning Filipino, English, and Chinese! The key is to start learning language early.

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