My two-year-old grandson is in the process of learning to talk. Fascinating, and made more so by his being in a two-language household. Both languages – English and Japanese – are emerging with no obvious preference. Luckily, at this stage, my limited Japanese can cope with the Japanese bits.
Now on a maternal home visit, it’s his Japanese grandparents who are juggling the transnational language barrier. My daughter-in-law emailed that her parents spoke to him in Japanese, but he replied in English, which they cannot understand, much to their consternation.
There are theories about language development in two-language households. Should each parent speak to the child only in his or her mother tongue, at least in the development phase? Does hearing and acquiring two languages inhibit initial development while the child absorbs contrasting grammatical patterns? While at this stage not speaking a lot of either language my grandson obviously understands well what is being said in both.
In an interesting article in The Conversation online newspaper, University of Canberra Senior Lecturer in Language, Literacy and TESL (teaching English as a second language), Misty Adoniou, urges our politicians and policy makers to recognise and nurture the resource of our bilingual students, which she describes as the greatest wasted resource in our schools and the waste of a precious economic resource. While in the rest of the world speaking only one language is abnormal, she wrote, we position second language learning as unusual and difficult. “We spend millions of dollars cajoling monolingual students to take up foreign language study and ignore our bilingual students,” she wrote.
Misty Adoniou describes bilingual brains as more flexible, more creative and better at problem solving. She said being bilingual means that, cognitively, students are the most advantaged learners in our schools.
With my grandson being in a Japanese-only environment for a while, I’m confident before long he’ll be replying in Japanese to his Japanese grandparents. By the time he returns I’ll be the one trying to work out what he’s saying. Thank goodness for Skype!