Studies on bilingual children show that the bilingual child has an approach to language that is different to that of the monolingual child. The child understands at a young age that there is more than one way to describe something. And because there is a close link between language and thought, this influences the child’s thought process.
Experts claim that the bilingual child attaches more importance to the meaning of a word than to its sound and that this could increase his ability to deal with abstract ideas.
The bilingual child can have a more flexible mind and greater linguistic creativity. A child acquires a self-confidence from being able to speak a second language with fluency.
As a result of having to decide which language to speak to different people, the bilingual child is often more sensitive in dealing with people and consequently develops better social skills.
Research shows that knowledge of other languages increases your ‘ maternal language ‘ ability. It enables students to use their native language (first language) more effectively. Second-Language learners very often have stronger vocabulary skills in English (their first language), a better understanding of the first language and improved literacy in general. According to the German philosopher Goethe, ‘ Those who know nothing of second languages, know nothing of their own’.
Learning languages helps to sharpen cognitive and life skills as language learning involves a variety of learning skills. Learning a second language can enhance one’s ability to learn and function in several other areas. Children who have studied a language at primary level score higher on tests in reading, language, art and maths. People who have learned second languages show greater cognitive development in areas such as mental flexibility, creativity, and higher-order thinking skills, such as problem-solving, conceptualising and reasoning.
Linguistically, a child can benefit greatly from attending a Gaelscoil. The young child has no preconceived ideas about the ‘ difficulty ‘ of learning a language. Experienced Gaelscoileanna teachers will tell you that the child ‘ absorbs ‘ the language. Once the child feels happy and secure in the environment, the rest takes care of itself. Ideally, a child is better able to acquire a language and its sound-system before the age of ten.
One of the best ways to enrich a child’s vocabulary is by reading to him and by starting a conversation based on what you have read. Other ways being, to ask questions and instigate games that all provoke light-hearted conversation. While watching TG 4 is beneficial, despite popular belief, it is not as constructive linguistically as reading. Music is another powerful tool.
If you are speaking Irish to your child, avoid having a mixture of English and Irish in your own speech. From a purely linguistic point of view, sentences like ‘ Ok, lets go up to your ‘leaba’ … are not helpful. ‘Rachaimid suas staighre anois ‘ is a far better option.
Create an Irish atmosphere in the children’s bedroom by hanging Irish posters on the walls and by putting books and cassettes/ CD’s on the shelves.
Aim to spend half an hour a day, if possible, with your child playing, telling a story or taking part in some activity which involves the language.
Finally, only a small percentage of children who attend all-Irish schools outside the Gaeltacht come from families whose home language is Irish – so don’t worry. Quite a few of the children starting have no knowledge of Irish.
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