Interview with Katharina Bieche, English & Art teacher from Germany
– How do bilingual kids learn to speak two languages in multilingual families?
Children react to response and learn from the reactions of their communication partner. The listening skills get sensitized and the environment is perceived as something that’s accessible through the codes produced with the mouth.
When a child learns to speak L1 exclusively with one part of the family, and L2 with the lady at the supermarket, it develops awareness for language itself as a communicative tool. If a child notices they can only speak L1 with their dad and L2 with their mom, because mom doesn’t pass the fork when the child says it in that language, they will remember to speak the other language with that person the next time, because they really want the fork. So, the rule becomes: “If I want this from this person, I have to speak L1. Because if I speak L2, I won’t get it from this person” and so on.
– What are the advantages and disadvantages of bilingual learning?
First, growing up bilingually means good development of the speech organs. The more different sounds children produce at a young age the more they are enabled to have a facetious pronunciation at a later point. This makes it easier to pick up on other languages when they try to learn them.
The sounds we don’t hear or speak at a young age are the sounds we won’t be able to produce at a later point.
This is also the reason why Asians have trouble differentiating between “L” and “R” sounds, when they try to learn English in High School age or later. This difference doesn’t exist in their first language (L1) so their speech organs have been desensitized for these sounds.
Second, many children struggle with their identity, if they don’t speak the language from their parent’s or grandparent’s native country. Learning the language can help to close that inner gap between the two cultures they stem from.
Third, speaking more than one language adds to the confidence of a child. Especially, when children get to the point where things become easier for them at school because they can use what they learned from being familiar with different language patterns.
When children speak several languages, they seem to make slower progress at school, although on the long run they earn the benefit. They transfer patterns and systems from familiar languages to new incoming information. This creates mistakes they have to abandon first. Children who only speak one language don’t make these mistakes. They are familiar with only one language system and they learn and think on this one channel. This is also why it sounds funny, strange, or even wrong sometimes when children learn two languages with (for example) different syntax.
– What does ‘bilingual’ mean for the parents?
Parents can really face difficulties with the bilingual nature of their children. They have to invest a lot of attention into the child’s learning process to make sure they don’t mix up the language systems. If in L1 the verb needs to stand before the subject, and in L2 the subject goes before the noun, it’s important that the child doesn’t apply one of the rules for both languages, but learns to use both rules accordingly. But because parents don’t like their children to make mistakes which would make them seem more stupid than other children, they become lazy and impatient to teach their children. This short-term insecurity of the parents takes away the chance for the child’s long-term benefits.
So, what we have…
Growing up bilingually can be a huge benefit to the children, if the parents are eager to guide and support the process. The improvement of cognitive learning abilities is not something visible. Therefore many parents see the disadvantages but not the great advantages. Raising a child bilingually takes time and requires patience, but is definitely in the interest of the child.
My name is Katharina Bieche. I teach different ages: little kids, young adults and older. I bring them to develop competences in four main areas: self, social, methods, subject knowledge. Recently, I have been teaching at School of Europe in Germany. With many other side projects, I support refugee classes for language learning. Teaching the actual content my students intend to learn is actually the smallest part of my job. This comes automatically when I, as a teacher, provide a good scaffold. I don’t teach in the traditional sense, teacher-centered classes are lessons spent in vain. That’s why I find ways for the learner to experience learning through different channels on different levels. This way they develop their skills and simultaneously understand the process of learning.