For many newcomer families in Canada, a fairly common concern is knowing whether their young children benefit from speaking another language at home, or whether it leads them to struggle in their learning of English or French.
I have seen this discussion take place in different Facebook groups, and even though people have expressed diverse opinions, most parents recommend speaking their native language at home.
This situation is not exclusive to Latin American families. The reality is that more than a hundred languages are represented in Toronto’s public schools, and Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) statistics indicate that more than fifty percent of students speak a different language at home.
This enlightening information reflects this great city’s cultural and linguistic diversity, and many families ask: Should I speak my native language to my children? The answer they receive is an adamant YES, given that it is of vital importance for children to learn about their culture and identity.
Toronto District School Board specialists explain that speaking one’s native language at home does not generate any confusion in children when learning another language; it has the exact opposite effect: it helps them learn about the world. “A good mastery of their first language helps ESL students in their English learning process. Growing up bilingual has a positive effect on the cognitive and academic development of young children,” says the TDSB.
Having to do online school at home because of the Covid-19 pandemic has given parents repeated opportunities to learn more about their children’s classes, and it has allowed many immigrant families to closely observe some of the interactions between the students and the teachers.
In my case, this topic has really caught my attention, and I loved seeing my six-year-old son, who is in first grade, interact with other students whose first language is Spanish. There are five of them in total, and I sometimes hear them speak Spanish in their free time and help each other out – in Spanish – when one of them does not fully understand the teacher’s instructions. They are six-year-old boys and girls who are quickly and naturally learning the English language while playing and studying. They are doing a great job, and we, as parents and responsible adults, need to support them at home in this interesting journey.
“If you want your child to succeed, make sure they learn their native language,” recommends Dr. Roma Chumak-Horbatsch Canadian researcher, professor, and linguistics specialist. She highlights the following benefits:
-By learning and practicing their native language, children will develop self-confidence, pride in their identity, and a deeper understanding of their roots and cultural heritage.
-Learning and practicing their native language will ensure they maintain communication with their parents, grandparents, and other family members.
-Children that learn and practice their native language do well in their exams, have a head start when they learn to read, develop strong writing, reading, problem-solving and math skills, and are more predisposed to learn a third language.
Dr. Roma recommends that parents encourage their children to speak their native language at home. “Take advantage of every opportunity to speak with your child in your native language. Speaking two languages will NOT confuse your child. Mixing both languages is completely normal for bilingual people, and it is, in fact, a sign of proficiency in both languages rather than a sign of language confusion,” affirms the renowned specialist and researcher.
Experiences are different in every household, but these specialists’ recommendations are applicable and adaptable to every situation. There are households where more than one language is spoken and families with parents from different cultures. Some children are born here in Canada; some come from big families, and so on. Many other variables play a role, but what’s important is that we support children and participate and contribute to their learning process.
Remember to speak your native language at home! Incorporate it into your daily routine, when you talk to your children, and during your daily household activities. Its benefits are priceless when it comes to their development, and they are the basis for understanding, speaking, and writing our first language. Visit www.revistaservs.com to find additional resources about this enthralling topic.
*Kelly Arevalo is a lawyer in El Salvador, with a master’s in international business law and a master’s in Big Data. Former Consul General of El Salvador in Toronto. Founder of www.revistaservs.com.
Translation Spanish-English: Ana Baltar