Have you ever wondered how different life in South Africa would be if you spoke one of the other nine official languages (i.e. one of the indigenous languages spoken by the majority of the population)? It might be too late for you, but it is not too late for your children, and the ideal language tutor for your children could already be working in your home. Your domestic worker could be the magical wardrobe that introduces your children to an entire new world; one that you can scarcely imagine. Young children are able to learn languages in a way that is not possible for adults; their supple minds and sensitive ears are able to pick up tones and rhythms that all but escape a grown up. Research has identified 6 critical language learning pillars that need to be in place in order for a new language to be acquired:
Consistency of Exposure
Even for a child, learning a new language is difficult. The only way that this difficulty can be overcome is through consistency of exposure. There has to be a person in the child’s day-to-day life that consistently, and unwaveringly, insists on speaking the target language to your child. This person also needs to be somebody that the child has to communicate with. The scenario needs to go something like this: ‘Are you hungry? I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you are saying; ask me in Zulu and I might be able to help you!’ We also refer to this as the ‘One-Person-One-Language’ theory. Many cross cultural families have successfully brought up multilingual children in this way. Only if the consistency prevails will the child submit to the language and begin to use it.
Quality of Input
The only way that your child will develop a good command of a language is if they receive quality input in that language. Make sure that your child is learning from someone that speaks to them in their mother tongue. Remember, a domestic worker that speaks to your child in a language that is not their own is not giving them quality input and it will affect their use of that language (in English for example).
Quantity of Exposure
Children need to come into contact with the language as often, and in as many different situations, as possible. Every incident and situation, no matter how mundane or serious, is an opportunity for language learning. The target language needs to be part of their everyday life and they need as much exposure as possible which is what makes the very person living and working in your home, interacting with your child every day, such a great candidate.
Environment (Expectation and Necessity)
Languages are often environment specific; the decision about which language to use is often determined by expectation and necessity. In order for your child to learn the language, you need to create an environment where the target language is dominant; this is driven by the tutor who strictly enforces the target language, thus creating an expectation and a necessity for the child to engage in the target language.
Children are generally passive in the company of an adult, however, when they are with their peers they engage in a give-and-take exchange that sees them expressing themselves in creative and imaginative ways. Children are forced to express themselves more clearly when they are with their peers and this is how language skills are reinforced and developed. Children should therefore be exposed to socialising with friends of different ages and languages regularly. In some home that might mean inviting your domestic worker’s child to play once a week or something similar.
Starting As Young As Possible
‘’Children who are exposed to more than one language in the formative years are able to obtain a level of fluency that becomes increasingly difficult as the child gets older…this enhanced ability to learn a new language declines dramatically after the age of 6” Robert DeKeyser, Maryland University. Don’t waste your child’s window of opportunity to become multilingual; they will certainly thank you for it one day!
So don’t delay, insist that your domestic worker speaks to your child in their native language, no matter how strange it may seem at first. This initiative has the potential to change the lives of both your child and your domestic worker forever!
LinguaMites® will be offering practical training that will equip your domestic worker with the skills and understanding required to become a language tutor to your child.
For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org regarding our training schedule.