Mother Tongue: The Benefits of Multilingualism in Early Years
Patricia Ramon, 50 Things Team Member and multilingualist, explains how being around different languages benefits speech and communication development in the Early Years.
Facilitating the environment for children to learn and absorb their home/second language can have long-lasting impacts on their cognitive development, social and emotional development, school readiness and ability to learn life skills. Dr Caspar Addyman states that we learn more in the first two years of life than at any other point in our life, which means that being around different languages at this stage can be extremely valuable. We hope that with the help of 50 Things To Do Before You're Five, parents and carers who have the ability to impart multiple languages to their children feel supported and encouraged to do this through play and chatter, in a society that will evolve to embrace the next generation of multilinguists.
Benefits of a multilingual environment
On the 21st of February, 2021, International Mother Language Day was celebrated around the world. This day was established to signify the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity and to “preserve the differences in cultures and languages that foster tolerance and respect for others” (UNESCO). 50 Things prides itself on originating from Bradford where it is home to an array of various cultures, communities and languages. We believe that when parents incorporate their child’s home language into the 50 Things activities, whenever and wherever possible, can provide them with skills that they can use in their lives beyond five.
Children who learn a second or multiple languages are better equipped with skills that are needed in school. The ability to switch from one language to another is a factor that has been associated with being able to grasp other cognitive skills. For example, developing their thinking skills, perception of mathematical and linguistic concepts, decision making and many more.
Another benefit of being bilingual is the ability to be emotionally aware. Cultures play a big role in language development and a young child can learn a lot from the traditions and ideologies of their home language. In turn, this can support their understanding of their identity as well as building a strong sense of relationship with their families and their surrounding communities. In a world as diverse as ours, this can be a really useful skill to have.
Studies have shown that bilingual children are more likely to be better at focusing. This is possibly due to the fact that they have to switch from one language to another when speaking to someone, therefore, concentrating on speaking in that language. For children, this can be a positive skill when it comes to avoiding distractions when performing a specific task.
Multilingualism in School Settings
Schools and nursery settings are increasingly adapting to a world with more languages, exploring the benefits and challenges this brings about. Sian Hudson, Executive Head Teacher at St Edmunds Nursery School and Lilycroft Nursery School believes in the presence of multilingualism in school settings. She states:
At Lilycroft and St Edmund’s Nursery Schools, we are a multilingual team that speak a wide range of community languages. Good communication is key to our organization and whilst speaking the same languages as those we teach and support is not essential, the value it can bring should not be underestimated.
We want everyone to feel welcome and included. Our children and their families have the right to be known, understood and listened to – having members of staff who speak the home languages of many of our families, really does support this.
To be able to communicate, play, sing and learn using language familiar to you can make all the difference; often enabling our children to feel confident and safe much more quickly, nurturing that sense of belonging that we want them all to feel.
Our aim is to create a culture of ‘we’ rather than ‘us and them’ and sharing language and culture really does help! It goes a long way towards enabling us to form genuine partnerships with families so that we can work together to provide the very best care and early education that we can for all our children.
Incorporating languages into the 50 Things activities
50 Things operates in 15 Local Authorities, exposing the initiative to many languages and cultures around the country. We encourage multilingual families to embrace their home language when taking part in the 50 Things activities. Introducing family members in their child’s home language, as part of #2 Where Am I, to acclimate them to their surroundings and who is part of their life. A session of #37 Show and Tell in their second language can inspire interests and curiosity in different cultures. What about #34 Woodland Wandering where there are lots of opportunities to learn outdoor vocabulary in a different language? Perhaps singing and dancing to songs from around the world when doing #18 Dance and #7 Making Music? There are endless possibilities!
Patricia is a Marketing and Communications Officer at 50 Things To Do Before You're Five. Patricia has recently graduated from the University of Leeds where she studied a BA in Communications and Media. Prior to joining Bradford Birth to 19, she worked as a Student Engagement Assistant for her university department. Patricia speaks English and Filipino.