Multi-Lingual Programs

The Benefits of Celebrating Linguistic Diversity with Young Children
It is not secret that we are tremendously proud of our diverse cultures and languages, in our child care community. But why do we spend so much of our time exploring each child’s language in our groups?

Why Develop a Multilingual Program?
Underpinning our shared excitement about language is the team’s hard work in helping each child develops a sense of belonging in their group. It is a simple fact that people (big and small) will not feel comfortable to share themselves until they feel a sense of belonging and value.

EYLF 1:1 “Children have a strong sense of Identity ….feeling safe, secure and supported”

AQF 5.1.1 “Interactions with each child are warm, responsive and build trusting relationships”

When a child hears or speaks a language other than English, at home or in their extended family, Early Childhood Educators enhance each child’s sense of belonging if they find ways to share the child’s experiences of language. Educators miss a lot of a child’s identity (getting to know the child and their experiences) if they don’t make some language connections. Affirmation of each child’s language and culture can be easy when, this is a natural extension of the child’s outgoing nature, but, for others, lot of support is needed for them to share their home experiences with their group. For some children, the affirmation of their language will ‘make or break’ their success in the educational context.

How we began our exploration of Languages
Our first step was to explore the languages represented in our staff. Although we already had some languages other than English amongst the staff – we have worked hard to make sure that we include bilingualism as criteria for selecting staff. Currently, many of our staff are bilingual/multilingual, with the following languages represented: Hindi, Malayalam, Sinhalese, French, Bengali, and Bahasa Indonesian.

The core skill to foster in the team is CURIOSITY and INTEREST in LANGUAGE. We have had many chats comparing and contrasting our languages. We practice pronunciation and laugh a lot about similarities and differences. It can take a bit of time and work to create the kind of team culture which fosters this kind of sharing. It is essential that all staff members feel welcome and a strong sense of belonging and value to the team.

When the team is interested and excited about languages, this becomes part of the services culture and it allows bilingual team members to role-model pride in language and culture.

AQF 1.1.2 “Each child’s current knowledge, ideas, culture, abilities and interests are the foundation of the program”

EYLF 1.3 “Children develop knowledgeable and confident self identities”

What better way to address AQF 1.1.2 and EYLF 1.3 than to explore each child’s experience of language. It is probably less well known that the children are very excited to share their languages with each other!

At the moment, our Kindergarten group is focusing on multilingual numeracy. At each Kindergarten session, the children count and do some simple addition. This is also done by each child in their home language. The striking thing about this part of the program is the children’s excitement about their own language and the languages of others. Even very shy children are now counting and adding in the following languages: Russian, Italian, Bahasa Indonesian, Mandarin, Malayalam. Initially, the shy children observed. Then, they count silently in their home language and whisper the result to the teacher, who repeats this to the group.

Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have 2 children in the same group, who share their language. In the Amici group, there are friends who share Vietnamese and friends who share Farsi. The group also sing and count in French, Mandarin and Bengali.

Our Sitaray (babies) group are speaking and singing in Mandarin and Farsi. The educational team find that the babies settle in and develop a strong sense of belonging, if the staff uses familiar words in the child’s home language.

You may ask, “What are the children learning from this?” Most importantly, the children are learning that the acquisition of language is one of the most complex achievements they will experience. Each time a child utters a word or sentence, they are using most parts of their brain, strengthening the neural pathways, develop concepts, mastering narratives and enhancing relationships. When 2 or more languages are developing, children are doubling their brain development. At the same time, they are developing facial, throat, nasal muscles and learning to co-ordinate these, to create specific sounds. On top of all this, languages are the portal into all histories and cultures – and all the learning that comes with this. The children also learn that although each of us are different from each other – we are all similar in our use of language.

In their small groups, the children are developing awareness that the experience language is different for each of them and there is a richness and social intimacy that can develop when different languages are shared and explored. The children coach each other to get the sounds of their language right. Some of the children can be found experimenting, on their own, with new sounds from new languages. The Kindy children are very proud that they can name each child’s home language and speak some words in each of them.

As an educator, the main advantage of multilingual curriculum is the development of auditory acuity. The children in our groups have to listen with concentration, to hear the nuances in sounds in unfamiliar languages. This skill reaps great rewards in their developing phonological awareness – which educational research assures us – results in better outcomes in literacy development. We all know that successful literacy development opens up the world of reading, research, entertainment, and academia and so on.

So, if you are ever in doubt about continuing to speak your first language with your children – remember all the advantages that this provides for them and their friends.