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Getting ahead with two or more languages

12 April 2019

Are you a two, or more than two-language household?

Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service Thursday Island-based Senior Speech Pathologist Tanya Govey said having more than one language was a great asset.

“It’s just wonderful for children to learn two or more languages when they are little,’’ she said.

“We know it is very good for brain stimulation, that the pronunciation is correct and will provide
better job opportunities for the future.

“More than half the earth’s population speak a second language!’’

However, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were speaking much less home (cultural) language or Kriol and more English at home, she said.

“This is a pity and more children should be encouraged to speak a second language when they are young and can pick up languages easily,’’ she said.

Ms Govey said learning two or more as a very young child, did not delay talking, so parents shouldn’t be afraid of their children doing so.

“If a child is under three years old and exposed to two or more languages, both regularly and consistently, then the child will learn the sounds and words accurately in both languages and be able to speak well in both,’’ she said.

“A child needs to hear a word many times before they fully understand it and use it themselves, so they need family to be role models, to show them the new word and how and when to use it.

“Yarning, playing, cooking, and so on, with the child are all excellent ways of encouraging multiple language use.

“When learning languages, kids have to learn more sounds and words and different ways of making sentences if they are learning different languages.

“For example, they have to learn two words for everything; such as ‘esso’ and ‘thank you’.

“This is excellent for brain development.’’

Ms Govey said in the early years – e.g two to three-year-olds – bilingual children used the same number of words as children learning one language, but these words would be spread over two languages.

“So, it might appear they have a language delay when they do not,’’ she said.

“Bilingual children do catch up. By about first/second grade they should speak both languages well.’’

Ms Govey said to ensure a child was picking up two or more languages properly, a parent had to be comfortable in the languages they were using and had to use them regularly with the child.

“It does not have to be one parent speaking one language and the other parent the second language, they can mix it,’’ she said.

Ms Govey said parents or other relatives could use the Model and Repeat technique.

For example: When a child wants the cup and points to the cupboard, a parent or relative could

  • “cup”
  • “mummy get the cup”
  • “The cup is in the cupboard”.

Ms Govey said watching TV, or YouTube, or something on computer could help a child improve their English as a second language, if English was not the first language used at home.

“However, this is only advisable for older children,’’ she said.

“Allowing children to view and interact with technology such a TV, computer, tablet, etc, all alone is not encouraged for children under the age of four and should be avoided entirely for children under two years old.’’

Ms Govey said if parents and carers had any concerns about their child’s language development, whether in a single language or more than one, they could get advice from a speech pathologist.

To contact a speech pathologist, please see your doctor for a referral or call 4030 6188.

PHOTO CAPTION: Senior Speech Pathologist Tanya Govey

Last updated: 19 June 2019