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Home » Articles »

Talking With Children


Is it OK to speak to my child in my native language?
Talking to your child regularly lays the foundation for her language and literacy development. If you are most comfortable with your native language, you will be better able to communicate your feelings and ideas in that language. You can use words to label objects and describe what is happening as a way of teaching new words. You can recite rhymes and poems to develop her awareness of sounds. You can take turns talking about the day, things she notices, and books that you read together. By talking together, you teach your child about the purpose of language, while helping her express her feelings and ideas. And by speaking to your child in your native language, you also teach her about her culture and her identity.

But will speaking to my child in my native language make it harder for him to learn English when he goes to school?
Before children start school, they may be exposed to English on TV, in the playground, and in the print they see on cereal boxes and street signs. Children will learn a lot about English from the environment around them. If your child has also had some formal exposure to English, such as going to a playgroup in which English is the primary language spoken, then school can provide additional opportunities for him to learn the language. Children and teachers alike can serve as models, helping your child communicate what he knows and can do. You may even be surprised by how quickly he picks up the language as he plays and learns alongside other English-speaking children. If your child has had no formal exposure to English, he will use what he knows about his native language to learn English - which will be a major task. Talk with your child's teacher about your goals for your child, as well as any concerns you have.

My husband speaks to our daughter in English. I want to speak to her in my native language. Won't she get confused?
Learning even just one language is a complex process. But young children have the potential to learn more than one language. Again, what is most important is that you talk with your child in the language with which you are most comfortable, so you can have the types of conversations that promote your child's thinking and language development. It is also important to be a good language model and not mix up languages. That is, when talking with your child in English, don't mix in phrases and sentences from your native language. However, don't be surprised if your child uses words from both languages in one sentence. This is not a sign of confusion, but her current way of communicating what she wants to say.

If we only speak to our child in English, will he lose his ability to speak in native language?
Yes. You will therefore need to decide if you want your child to maintain his skills in your native language. Consider your long-term goals. If you and your family will not return to your home country, maintaining the native language may not be a priority. Also consider your family situation. If extended family members don't speak English, it will be important for your child to maintain his native language so he can communicate with people closest to him. Also consider how your child might feel about losing his native language and a sense of his cultural identity when he gets older.

My child insists on talking to me in English. How can I help her maintain her native language?
It requires time, persistence, and creativity. Some parents speak to their child only in their native language, even if their child responds in English. Other parents send their children to afterschool programs to learn more about their native language. You can also create routines to help your child maintain her native language - from outings with family members to watching movies and reading books in your native language.

My child is learning English as a second language. What should I do if he makes mistakes?
Avoid correcting your child or you might discourage him. A good way to help your child learn the "right" way to say something is to affirm what he says, using the correct pronunciation, sentence structure, or grammar. For example, if your child says, "The mail comed," you might say, "You're right. The mail came. Let's see if we got a letter from Grandma."

Find out answers to questions about reading to multilingual children.

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