Raising multilingual children requires patience. The child might still be reluctant from time to time, and that’s okay. The key is to help them remember that there are so many great things to learn from another culture simply by speaking their language and that it’s something you can help them achieve with ease!
In my 20s I moved to Hong Kong for six years and was able to immerse myself in the Hong Kong culture from Australia. Before long I managed to pick up a little bit of reading – helped in no small part by being able to speak the language fluently.
In my home, for instance, my parents spoke Cantonese exclusively. Although I can’t read and write the characters, my spoken Cantonese is fluent, and it’s often difficult for people to tell that I didn’t grow up in Hong Kong.
Since moving back to Sydney, with my young daughter in town, I’m constantly thinking about how to teach her Cantonese. Here are a few things I think helped me stay interested in learning a second language.
• Speak to your kids exclusively in one language for learning
It is hard to have one parent speaking only to your child in the second language. Don’t give up on that. Don’t worry about that you will lose the family time on communicating only in one language, and be persistent even if your child insists on speaking to you in the other language. It’s okay to let them respond the way they like, just make sure that you keep speaking in the second language in daily life.
• Learning through playtime
Focus on the cool and fun aspects of that culture, and how learning the language will make it easier to immerse in the culture, rather than as a sense of duty. Introduce the words in playtime activities. For example, I watched a lot of Cantonese dubbings of Japanese cartoons, and I also watched many Hong Kong local dramas. As a result, I listened to Canton-pop and sang Cantonese songs on our karaoke machine at home with text that you could follow. Although I didn’t learn to read at all this way, it was still fun to try.
• Support Network
Building a support network is probably one of the most underestimated success factors. For example, Sydney is a wildly multicultural city and most families I know here are immigrants. Many Sydney-siders speak a second language learned solely through having a parent or both parents speak in their native tongue. Meet with other families that exclusively speak the second language and are very closely connected with the culture of that language. This helped immeasurably because during playtime we conversed in Cantonese. I got to practice the language with other kids.
• Don’t correct the grammar
Be patient! Try not to correct over how your child is speaking; correction is important, but it can easily make a child feel discouraged. Speak first and improve on the accent later.