Children and Language Learning

Notes by Delana S

“Linguistic contact is a key to the minds and behavior of other people.  When using their native language people not only communicate words, but also emotions and the roots and culture of their people.” —Ann-Christine Marttinen


Here are some thoughts from Ann Marttinen:

  • When confronted by a new country, culture, and language, a child has to reestablish his personality in order to explain himself and to be accepted.
  • Children should be encouraged to speak the local language, but not at the expense of their native tongue.
  • Parents and teachers need to prevent excessive stress and help the child preserve his national identity, language and culture.  A strong sense of heritage and cultural identity gives the child a feeling of personal worth.  Destroy his self-esteem in his ability to communicate, and the child becomes frustrated easily.
  • The worst thing a parent can do is to abandon the use of their native language in order to help their child quickly adapt to the language used in the new school or country.  When learning a new language, one’s vocabulary for endearment is limited.  The relationship between the parent and child suffers, as does closeness and family unity.
Here is a helpful resource:  A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism, 1995, Colin Baker.






Here are few suggestions and cautions from Cynthia Storrs, SHARE, 1996:

  • Don’t try to teach your child to read English the same year he or she is learning to read another language.  If your child is in a national school or preschool and is not beginning to learn reading at that time, you may want to start teaching if other indicators show that the child is ready to learn to read.
  • Many children learn easily to read in their mother tongue with instruction coming first in another language.  They do this by transferring the phonic skills they have learned in acquiring the second language.
  • As you read to your children in your mother tongue, get into the habit of asking them what they think will happen next.  At the end of the story, ask them to summarize what you read.
  • Read-along stories with cassettes are very helpful.  Buy books in both languages (but not bilingual books—the child will probably pick one of the languages to read every time).
  • Choose books and subject matter they really enjoy to encourage reading for pleasure (Ranger Rick, comic books, joke books, etc.).
  • Leave notes around the house for them to read, with a treasure/reward at the end of the paper trail.



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