When you ask an early childhood class “Who speaks another language at home” most if not all bilingual children will put their hands up timidly. Whilst I personally feel totally jealous of these lucky ducks with a second language, to many children it can be quite embarrassing to speak in foreign tongue. Most children in early childhood who come to Australia not speaking English end up refusing to speak their first language at home once they learn it. This leads to distress as their parents feel that their children become disinterested in their own culture.
It’s important to help our multicultural children feel proud of their language from a young age, so here are a few ideas.
Here is a great map idea with every child’s name linked to the country of their heritage. I just had to take a photo of it at St Lucia Kindergarten.
An interactive song idea can be “The Wheels on the Bus” changed over to a multicultural version including the cultures in your room. You can point to the various countries where each child is from and ask for a translation of hello, goodbye, tickets please. You could also ask their parents for some funny lines translated like ‘Pulled a funny face’ or ‘she saw a dancing frog’ to make it giggly!
Then you can sing things like:
Roushini on the bus says “Namaste”
The Chinese on the bus say “Nih ha mah”
The elders on the bus say “Let’s tell a yara” (aboriginal word for story)
Pierre on the bus say “Merci Boucooup” (pronounced mercy boo coo)
Akiko on the bus she says “Konichywa”
Shahid on the bus he says “Jambo Bwana” ( East africa Swahili language, hello Sir)
Some advice for parents who are concerned about their children’s refusal to speak the family’s language is firstly to try and speak some English with their children at home. The second tip we could share with parents is to play with their children and keep all the fun stuff in their home language. Read stories, sing songs, play games, listen to music and help their children associate their language with fun positive interactions. It is difficult to be put in the ‘different’ pigeon hole at school and it is human nature to want to fit in……and in case you were wondering, it is normal for children transitioning to English to go through a silent period while they problem solve who says what where.
The more social events we can organise in our community, the closer we all are in understanding and engaging in each other’s cultures. It’s important we as adults role model happy interactions and this actually means getting to know each other. We are all shy children on the inside, everyone feels the same. We can celebrate our individuality so long as we all remember this one golden rule!