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6 Tips For Raising Bilingual Children

Bilingualism was borne out of Singapore’s need to operate globally and ‘retain’ cultural identity. However, it is time we put in more effort into how we can make our children masters of these languages.

Bilingualism has become a hallmark of a Singaporean, and a cornerstone of our education system. The aim of the bilingual education policy is to ensure that while Singapore remains viable economically all over the world, Singaporeans need not lose their cultural values or identity. Singapore’s education system promotes and stipulates bilingualism as its core policy so that children pick up at least two languages in schools – English and their mother tongue. 

According to the General Household Survey 2016, although English has become the language spoken most often at home in Singapore, there has been an increase in reading and writing in at least two languages. It shows 36.9 per cent of residents aged five and older use English most often at home against 34.9 per cent for Mandarin.

As such, the value of knowing more than one language is indisputable, and most people believe in the value of teaching languages when a
child is young. But how do children learn languages so quickly? Former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, a long-time advocate of bilingualism, has urged parents in Singapore to introduce bilingualism to their children at an early age. Research has shown that bilinguals tend to be more creative thinkers than those who speak one language. In addition, one study suggests that their brain functions may stay sharper as they age. Here are 6 tips to raising bilingual children!

  1. Create a conducive home environment for children to mingle and interact in the Mother Tongue language (MTL). Children first learn to speak the language at home by listening to and taking part in the daily conversations with family members.
  2. Whether you are talking to your child about a new word, helping them write a letter, or reading a story out loud, your interaction will maximise your child’s language understanding.
  3. For those living in English-speaking homes, both parents and child are strongly encouraged to invite relatives and MTL-speaking friends regularly to your homes to expose your child to interactions in the MTL.
  4. Write with your child to improve their writing skill. Assist the child by giving pointers. Not only will this encourage self-expression, it will also deepen the bond between you and your child.
  5. For upper primary children, encourage more reading for good writing skills.
  6. Take into consideration that the learning of MTL must not be forced onto your children. Rather, the learning should take place in a very informal but meaningful setting. For example, use more MTL verb forms in the language rather than translating English nouns into MTL words (chair, table, mouse, elephant, etc.). Examples of verb forms include “open the door”, “wash your hands”, and “bring the toy”.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that it is taking some extra effort or that you have to wait a bit for the result. And hey, remember that you’re not alone in this as well. Madonna, Andre Agassi and Anotonio Banderas are among those raising bilingual children – and if they can do it, why shouldn’t you?

 What are your tips for encouraging your child to be bilingual? Leave us a comment down below.