A huge advantage of raising children here is the opportunity to expose them to a variety of languages. With as many as 76 language educators from preschool through to twelfth grade, this American school in Singapore are well placed to give us the lowdown on language learning! Language and communication is at the heart of the human experience, so if you choose to raise multilingual children, you can really help their future prospects.
We asked the team at the Singapore American School (SAS) how they’ve helped over 4000 students learn additional languages – plus some great tips how you as a parent can play a part.
What are the benefits of raising multilingual children?
When children learn different languages, they become more culturally aware. This helps them maintain relationships and function confidently within a global society.
Which are the popular languages options offered at SAS?
We see offerings in French, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese as the most sought-after languages. Additionally, our teachers’ associations in each of these languages is quite active and offers programming for students to expand their use and practice of these languages.
Currently more than 115 of our students are deep-diving language learning through advanced level courses in Chinese, Spanish, and French with an additional 170 students pursuing the Chinese immersion program offered in kindergarten through to third grade.
You offer a ‘Seal of Biliteracy’ at your school; what is that exactly?
We offer our Seal of Biliteracy to formally certify attainment of biliteracy for students for Mandarin, Spanish, and French. It’s a statement of accomplishment that helps to signal a student’s readiness for multilingual career and college settings as well as for engagement as a global citizen.
What are the common challenges for multilingual children?
One is a lack of a clear connection or a reason or context for their language use. For example, students outside of the US context do not seek Spanish as strongly as students at Singapore American School, where we have more students taking Spanish courses than at any other campus on the island.
Another is the language learning process and the slow-down of development. Children raised in multilingual environments develop each language at a slower pace because their learning is spread across languages.
We find that reinforcing purpose and reason, helps students make connections between their learning and their everyday lives.
What are the challenges for parents, when it comes to supporting their multilingual children?
Families lead very busy lives, so finding ways to incorporate the love of languages into everyday routines is a great way to support multilingual children.
Parents are often worried that they cannot help with additional languages as they don’t know the language. While it may not be your expertise, there are other things that you can help with, like providing a good environment for learning and encouraging self-regulation.
What action could a parent take today to support their child?
Ask your children to practice some of the memorised phrases they learned in class, to describe their daily routine in the ‘target language’. Or have them share their favourite part of the day in the target language, sentence by sentence. This helps consolidate what they are processing and learning in class.
What are your top tips for parents to support their children while they learn an additional language?
- Have them share their experiences and what they’ve been learning and producing in class.
- Encourage them to practice their target language in authentic situations. For example, you could visit a Spanish, French or Chinese restaurant and encourage them to speak to you in the target language.
- Apart from access and resources, parents can also be partners in learning. Listen to them reading; sit next to them when they practice their writing. Parents can also be role models, showing that they value the language, the culture, and people who speak the language.
- Show interest, excitement and curiosity and be more inclusive and aware of the cultural differences. Expose children to the cultures of the languages they are learning – for example, watching a movie in the target language together.
- Focusing on interests is an authentic way to use the language. If your child enjoys sports, teach them about sports played in the country of the language they’re learning. For example, if the target language is Mandarin, then watching theatre and puppet shows in Chinese, and enjoying Chinese paintings, dance and so on helps to build an interest in the language.
- Help your child understand why they’re learning the language so they can make a personal connection.
- Watch some of your favourite shows on Netflix in the target language, with your child.
Helping your child develop their first language will be beneficial for their second and third language.