Multilingualism - having proficiency in two or more languages - has become increasingly sought after in an increasingly global society. Having knowledge of multiple languages is increasingly common in Canada, with immigrants arriving from all over the world to raise their kids in a country well known for its French/English bilingualism. Turkish, Spanish, Tagalog, Dutch, German, Twi, Swahili, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Italian, Hindi, Dari, Pashto, Persian, Polish, and Ukrainian are just a handful of the languages you might hear on the streets of cities like Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal, and Vancouver.
Thankfully, becoming multilingual or bilingual in Canada is easy thanks to its many language schools, multicultural policies, and vibrant ethnic enclaves. Beyond Canada's diverse cities and towns, students of international languages can also take advantage of the plethora of online resources and apps that have made language learning easy.
If you’re a parent who has been interested in getting your monolingual kids learning another language, whether it is a heritage language, French, or simply one your child is interested in, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s explore some reasons parents want their kids to be multilingual, and the best ways you can help your child on their journey toward acquiring a new language!
Find out why so many Canadians are becoming Multilingual right now!
Why Parents Want Their Kids to be Multilingual
- Many parents want their children to learn another language. Source: Unsplash.
Why do so many parents want their kids to be multilingual? Let’s first consider the fact that there are plenty of economic options. In a globalized workforce, having more than one language can be advantageous as it enables one to communicate with people all over the world, or even open up the possibility of an easier job relocation.
Beyond economic opportunities, many parents want their kids to become multilingual as it helps their families retain their cultural identity. In Canada, where one is immersed in either English or French, it can be easy to lose the language of your parents or grandparents. When your kids speak a heritage language - a language that they have a cultural connection with - it helps to keep your kids connected to their ancestors. Speaking your heritage language at home, or sending your kids to cultural centres or language schools to learn another language are popular ways parents can help their kids maintain their family’s linguistic traditions. These linguistic skills will surely come in handy, whether it is to travel back to one’s homeland or to communicate with a relative abroad.
Language learning isn’t just for kids! Read our article on heritage language study for adults here.
The Best Ways to Support your Child’s Multilingualism
Kids can become multilingual with parent support and hard work - check out this kid who has learned 19! Start with one, and keep on building from there.
Provide Opportunities for Conversation in the Target Language with Family
The most effective way to get your kids speaking another language is to immerse them in contexts where they must communicate in that language. If you are a native speaker, or have close relatives that speak the language you want your kids to learn, then organize social events where your child can hear and see their language in action. Organize a dinner gathering or a party (this can be done virtually) and make a point of inviting your multilingual relatives. Speak to your child in your heritage language as much as possible - the younger you start this with your kids, the better.
Enrol Your Child in an International Language Course
- Enrol your kids in a language class. Source: Unsplash.
Parents will find plenty of language classes for their kids through boutique language schools, the public school boards, community and cultural centres. Classes are a great way for your child to meet other kids who are of the same background, and learn in a structured environment. If your child can already understand and speak your home language, classes will help by teaching your child literacy skills like reading and writing.
Many language classes for younger kids are designed to be fun and teach language through games and songs. Some school boards offer language classes for a low cost, and your child can coordinate with friends to enrol in the same section so they can enjoy the social time as well. Parents will love having a block of time to run errands or simply do some reading while waiting for class to end - it’s a win-win situation! Many classes are also offered virtually, which can be an easy and convenient alternative.
Read our top five reasons kids should learn their heritage language.
Explore Local Cultural Enclaves
Another fun way to expose your kids to their heritage language is to take them - if possible - to a neighbourhood or area they will hear other speakers. If you live in a big city like Toronto or Montreal, this can be fairly easy. Chinatown, K-Town, Little Manila, Little India, Greektown, and Little Italy, are just a few common neighbourhoods in large cities like Toronto. While many cultures will not have an entire neighbourhood devoted to the community, it’s not hard to find stores or restaurants that are regionally focused. Visit a Serbian bakery, a Latino or Indian grocer, or a Brazilian restaurant and have a conversation with the staff while your child can explore the different products. You’ll be surprised how much there is to learn from local small businesses!
Take a Family Vacation to your Heritage Country
- Take your kids on a journey to your family's ancestral home. Source: Unsplash
If you love to travel, why not plan to take your child to your family’s heritage country so they can be fully immersed in the language and culture? Immersion is perhaps the fastest way to gain proficiency in any language, as one must use their linguistic skills to get nearly everything done, from finding where the closest bathroom is to making a purchase.
When you take your kids to your heritage country, they will not only apply their language skills but experience a whole world of art, food, geography, architecture, and social norms. Trips like these can be some of the most meaningful and unforgettable experiences you can have with your kids. It can be a major trip your family can look forward to and prepare for through language learning, and you can make it even more fun by teaming up with another family so cousins and other relatives can be there. If you can travel for a significant amount of time, you may even be able to enrol your child in a class or summer camp, where they will surely beef up their language skills.
Consume Foreign Language Media
Perhaps the most entertaining way to support your kids’ language learning in Canada is to expose them to movies, TV shows, and music from your home country. Most countries produce their own media, including kids shows, so you’ll find plenty to interest your child whatever their age is. Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to learn, so hearing language paired with an actual show or movie with subtitles can be surprisingly powerful. Music is also a fun way to hear an international language, and if your kids like the song they will learn the lyrics and sing along. This can be an easy way for them to build vocabulary while also having fun!
Hire a Private Language Tutor
A private language tutor can support your child’s learning in a variety of ways. If you are speaking your heritage language in your home frequently, a tutor can help your child work through a workbook, readings, or other activities to help them build their literacy skills. Did you enrol your child in a class, or do you have an older child studying a language in secondary school, college or university? A private tutor can provide additional practice, and ensure your child is successful in school. If your child has no background in the language they are learning, a tutor can help them get started and engaged in basic conversation.
Private language tutoring is an excellent option if your family has a busy schedule and class times aren’t convenient, or if the target language is one that is not commonly taught in your area in schools or centers. A tutor can meet your child online, work with several kids if you have multiple kids or other relatives that would like to join. In some cases, you can organize a tutor to meet you in your home or some place convenient like a library or cafe.
Sites like Superprof have listings for tutors near you in a variety of languages. Check out Superprof today!