For many countries where the majority speaks English teaching children to speak other languages from a very early age is a foreign concept, while in many other parts of the world, millions of people speak the native language at home and learn at school in English or French, for example, is a norm.
Now, the world is becoming one big village with nationalities, races, and cultures intertwined. It creates new forms of society where we have to adapt, compromise, seek mutual benefits, and open our hearts and minds to other forms of being together based on respect and understanding.
With numerous articles and research coming out that address the great advantages of multilingualism, many starting to seek ways and opportunities to learn new languages and teach them to their children effectively and organically.
Those who live apart from cultural roots often choose to embrace, celebrate, and pass on to children their cultural inheritance along with their mother tongue. I grew up in a closed town in Russia surrounded by wild Siberian taiga. I started to learn English at school at the age of 7 – a foreign language I got the most exposure to. Later on, in my teen years, I learned Spanish at university.
When traveling to Poland I learned to speak Polish within 9 months of living there. After coming to Australia to study teaching I met my husband and his native language is Spanish. It appeared natural to teach children our mother tongues from the very start. In our household, we also follow the Montessori approach in parenting and teaching. Just these two aspects generate quite a specific lifestyle that requires adjustments. It’s a myth that raising bilingual ( multilingual) children is a process that happens naturally and does not require a great deal of effort from everyone involved.
Chances are you will need to explain yourself a lot. To family members, to friends, to kindergarten teachers, to total strangers. The truth is – many are going to be incredibly supportive and understanding, but not everyone. Staying true to the path you’ve chosen regardless of people’s approval for the sake of your child’s development is crucial.
Many struggle because they think that their child will be “different”, stand out and will fail to fit in their peer group. Often children say that it’s “not cool” to speak a language that is not spoken by the majority. As a result, parents stop making the intentional effort to encourage children to speak minority languages. I believe the Montessori approach can help overcome these obstacles.
First of all, we can’t force children to speak a language they don’t want to speak. I mean we can, but would you really want to? Or would you rather create an atmosphere and environment where your children become self-motivated and keen participants?
The Montessori approach is most effective when implemented from birth, the same goes for multilingualism. Start as early as possible. Create an environment where it is normal to speak and hear various languages at all times.
A study shows that babies can absorb as many as 5 languages from birth. It positively impacts their development. However, all communication has to be done via live interaction – talking with a baby, reading books, singing songs, etc, not in the form of iPad applications or TV for at least the first two years of life (that does not include communication via Skype and such).
“Our results underscore the notion that not only are very young children capable of learning multiple languages, but that early childhood is the optimum time for them to begin,” the study’s lead author, University of Washington research scientist Naja Ferjan Ramirez, said in a statement.
“Our results suggest that before they even start talking, babies raised in bilingual households are getting practice at tasks related to executive function,” said Ramirez. “This suggests that bilingualism shapes not only language development, but also cognitive development more generally.” Source – via mic.com
Follow your child’s passion and create a natural flow. Make sure that all family members are on board. Set up clear rules and make sure everyone is comfortable with them.
We have decided that it is going to be one language with one parent for at least the first three years of children’s lives regardless of circumstances and our surroundings. Once our oldest turned 3 we started to speak English (our common language) when all family members were present and only spoke native languages when alone with the child.
We also started homeschooling at the age of 3 in English. My husband dropped Spanish with our oldest when she was about 2.5yo which seems to be natural for him. I didn’t mind, but I did insist that he had to stick with one language for at least until she turned 3. See, I didn’t push him. A happy family is our main goal. We learn to find a natural way to build our household that is based on understanding and zero control. However, we believe in discipline and honest communication.
If you don’t have sincere passion and love for your native language – it is impossible to ignite it in your child’s life. Understandably, many are forced to move to a different country under difficult circumstances and do not want to be associated with it. It’s a personal choice.
Don’t give up and look for support. It can get lonely. We were very fortunate to connect with like-minded multicultural families we meet up with regularly. It made all the difference in the world. Being a part of a support online group can be very beneficial too.
We celebrate each other’s achievements and we give generous advice. Each story is unique but struggles are common. If you feel that you need the support of a specialist, please seek advice and research the matters of your concerns, until you are satisfied with the outcome.
Following the Montessori method, we strive to understand, embrace, and learn about different cultures and traditions around the world. Providing an authentic experience of the native culture will build a strong foundation for life-long attachment to the languages the child is learning to speak.
Gathering a rich library of books, videos, cartoons, and music along the way will help your child to embrace language naturally. Skyping with relatives who live abroad can do wonders and have a very positive impact on a child’s language development.
My daughter used to spend up to an hour a day talking to her grandma in Russia. She would come back with pages of children’s poems memorized by heart. Many families choose to travel to the homeland on a regular basis to help their children learn the language through constant interaction and immersion.
The key to the students’ success is the full immersion approach to language learning. Middlebury Language Academy instructors operate with the understanding that, in order to learn a language, students have to use it in a meaningful, real-world way. That means learning the language through culture, art and music with less emphasis on more common teaching methods like rote vocabulary memorization.
The Montessori language area of development is equipped with solid strategies, methodology, and materials. Like everything else in Montessori, it is hands-on and sensory-based. There are sandpaper letters, sound objects, Montessori 3-part cards that facilitate learning to read, write, and comprehend.
In bilingual Montessori school, some teachers teach only in their specific language – so children are accustomed to hearing one language from one person. They use Montessori materials in two different languages.
I worked for five years in International Montessori Children’s House and observed many foreign children come speaking more than two languages with ease – English at school, one language with one parent, another with a second, getting exposure to Russian from the outside environment. This is not to say the more the better. We always need to keep honest communication with the child and know when to cut back if there is too much struggle.
In our household we Montessori homeschool, and we focus first on learning to read and write in English. Russian and Spanish are only done in speaking and listening forms at this stage. Once children are confident readers and writers we will move on to learning to write and read in minority languages using a similar approach to Montessori. I believe this is something children can pursue in the future if they choose to, following their own desires and passions.
You may also like to read a fantastic article by Bilingual KidSpot Raising a Bilingual Child the Montessori Way.
In our Raising Multilingual Montessori Facebook Community, we offer support and advice. There are amazing teachers, parents, and caregivers from different parts of the world who share their experiences, resources, and materials. We encourage each other and grow together. We would love for you to join us! I invited a couple of members to share with us their best tips on raising multilingual Montessori children. This just goes to prove that there is no such thing as “one approach fits all”. Every family has to work out what suits them best:
Follow your child! Make it fun and pleasure. Don’t be afraid not to follow some default suggestions, like, one parent one language, for example. A Montessori approach means you as an adult are just a supporter and guide, not a teacher! Use all kinds of possibilities to make the language living. Decide on your travel destinations based on your child’s language knowledge. Don’t just learn but live the language. Bake pancakes in English, go for a walk in Swedish, visit a museum in Latvian and sing in Lithuanian, for example. Try getting hold of the same books in all the languages– read the same story in all those different languages. Don’t be afraid to use modern technology but use it wisely – always living language is better than screen. Watch the same movies in different languages. Buy guide books, cookbooks, encyclopedias, books about nature for adults and read to your child – they have rich language.
Favourite resources: Second hand book stores, Skype lessons, Pinterest boards
-Mum of quadrilingual child in Montessori family
One person one language.Use full sentences and describe everything in detail. Children have this powerful absorbent mind helped with the sensitive period for language which helps them unconsciously to develop any languages. Also, make reading a habit. Books with long sentences should be introduced gradually but quickly. Play games with language, rhyming singing chanting. Anything related to spoken language ….Which is a huge part of the Montessori curriculum too!
– Kathleen Dian Soussou –
a Montessori trained teacher and the mum of a 3 year old. I am a Montessori trained teacher and the mum of a 3-year-old. I am from France, my husband is from Lebanon and we live in the US. My son speaks French, Arabic English, and some Spanish.
Keep speaking to your children in the minority language as much as possible. Be respectful of them when they speak the majority language instead. I’m still in the early stages, as my daughter is just turning 3 next month, but I believe perseverance and commitment are key. As a SAHM I’ve been lucky enough to be with her all the time and have immersed her in Spanish. I feel like she has an excellent foundation and speaks well. However, I know my hard work is just starting as she starts preschool in the fall and English will really take over. Given that my husband doesn’t really speak Spanish, it hasn’t always been easy but I’ve stuck with it and speak Spanish to her no matter what, regardless of who’s around. When I don’t know how to say something I look it up. I don’t substitute the English word because I feel that sets a bad standard. I want her to speak, read, and write in Spanish so it’s important to me that I teach her properly. We read LOTS. That has been educational for both of us and has expanded my own vocabulary. She will occasionally speak to me in English and I just respond in Spanish saying “yes, that’s ……”. I never want to shame her or make her think what she’s saying is wrong simply because it’s not in the language I want her speaking in (my husband struggles with this one). I also do Montessori activities in Spanish, I.e. Three part cards, sand paper letters, and eventually we’ll use the moveable alphabet for Spanish words. At the end of the day, my advice is to commit to teaching them another language and stick with it even when it gets hard. The payoff is so worth all the hard work.
Favourite Resource: Book “Growing up with two languages a practical guide”.
As parents of multilingual children, we must ensure that we provide our children with enough exposure to the languages they are learning, in order for them to become proficient speakers. We must also provide the necessity for our children to use those languages on a daily basis, especially with the minority language, the one which receives the least exposure.
Making sure there a wide range of multilingual resources at home including different types of books, games, and activities is vital in promoting language development and will allow our children freedom of choice. Let children lead the way, guiding us towards books and activities they enjoy. This will help to motivate them to participate, and therefore learn along the way.
Reading to and with our children, every day in their target languages is extremely important to ensure they get the exposure to the languages they need in order to develop their language skills. Exploring different types of books gives exposure to new vocabulary that children may otherwise not hear during their daily lives.
Reading also creates opportunities for conversation together. You can never talk too much with your child. Talking together is the best way to give our children quality exposure to a language. No language app or TV program can give the same results. They need actual human interaction.
Providing our children with an environment rich with opportunities to practice their languages every day will give them the confidence and motivation to use the languages on a regular basis and eventually become proficient speakers.
– Chontelle Bonfiglio Bilingual KidSpot
Chontelle Bonfiglio is the founder of Bilingual KidSpot, an informative website for parents raising bilingual or multilingual children. Chontelle shares language resources, as well as practical advice, tips, and strategies based on her own experience as a mother of multilingual children, and as a foreign language teacher.
Giving a single tip to raise multilingual children the Montessori way is almost impossible. I think for us what has helped is a combination from factors starting from birth: sign language, using the 3 period lesson in different languages and reading lots of books.
When our daughter was born my husband and I started talking to her in our mother tongue (German for my husband and Spanish for me) when we were alone with her and in English when we were together.
Once she turned 6 months old I started introducing ASL. We used ASL independently of which language we were speaking with her. Soon after, I realized this was helping her making connections between the three languages.
She started sounding a few words in Spanish and English at 9 months. Once she started talking more I started introducing new vocabulary with lots of hands-on Montessori activities.
I use 3 part cards (even though she can’t read yet) in every working unit and introduce new vocabulary we see in the cards with the 3 period lesson in both Spanish and English. We do lots of matching activities and I feel like picture to object matching (one of her favourite activities since before she turned two) has helped so much to introduce vocabulary in both languages.
Another thing that has helped a lot is reading, reading, reading. We have lots of books in all three languages and we make a weekly visit to the library to pick up new books. We love books with real pictures but we read some story books too. Sometimes she surprises me by using the most beautiful vocabulary and when I ask her where she learned that word she says in this book (and she names the book).
Favourite Resource: advice from Bilingual Kidspot
-Isabel Arango www.uno-zwei-tutu.com
I’m a Colombian married to a German and living in Germany. I have a 3 year old daughter who is trilingual (Spanish, English and German).
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