Multi-lingual children


There are so many benefits of having a second language in your pocket; for employment, for communicating when travelling, for accessing the literature etc, the list is endless. And there are so many benefits of teaching a second language to children from young age. Their brain will become more receptive to a new information, their ears will get used to various different sounds in different languages and a child who knows 2 or more languages find it very easy to learn a new language. When we were at school we learned about the 12th century Central Asian scholars like Mahmud Qoshg’ariy who could speak, read and write in as many as 9 languages very fluently. Most scholars of the region were multi-lingual having Turkish, Farsi, Arabic as their language of communication, language of reading and writing.

As a language teacher, I was very interested in experimenting SLA theories with my kids. Their first language is Uzbek but obviously because we live in England, they speak English the minute they leave the house. Although they are bilingual, I would say at this point their way of expressing themselves is far better in Uzbek than in English. But they read more books in English due to shortage of good story books in Uzbek. So, their Uzbek is very much limited to conversational Uzbek rather than stylistic literature.

I was so inspired by sister Umm Ibrahim bint Milton over at Talibiddeen Jr being able to homeschool 9 children in English and Arabic. I used to read her posts back in 2007 where she said you don’t need to be a fluent Arabic speaker or reader in order to teach your children Arabic. Because I always had this fear that unless I am not confident in a language I can not teach it. MashAllah, time has proved that I can learn alongside with my children. I dont have vast amount of knowledge of Arabic. Although it would have definitely been of benefit if I was taught Arabic as a child, not knowing the language should not hold me back from giving the chance to kids. Especially at this day and age where you can find plenty of free resources online be it interactive websites, printables, books and games.

So, our children are bilingual- Uzbek and English. And we have started teaching them Arabic from early age, starting from Arabic alphabet then building on the vocabulary, as well as memorizing the surah from the Qur’an, which is in Arabic. Currently my daughters go to Sunday school organized for children of Arab families living in our area.  Also they watch Educational Cartoons in Arabic about 20-30 minutes daily on youtube. Alhamdulillah, they are motivated to learn Arabic because they know it is the language of the Qur’an, the language of the prophet Muhammad (saw) and the language of jannah.

Sumayya just started reading in Arabic recently. She reads from her Reading Book given by Arabic school, she reads the vocabulary worksheets from Arabic comes first, and she could read the small surahs on Qur’an centred word workbooks. She copies sentences from her Uhibby Deeni book given by school for her handwriting.

Safiyya alhamdulillah has learned all the letters of the Arabic Alphabet and currently learning new vocabulary through her reading and vocab books given by Arabic School. She does lots of Arabic Alphabet tracing worksheets to improve her handwriting too.

Recently I have been thinking of adding Russian to our list of languages to be learnt and researching where to start teaching Cyrillic alphabet. And I know inshaAllah it will not be a burden on the girls as both are very interested in Russian. We read Russian books and they get to watch educational cartoon series in Russian called Luntik. They know how to count 0-10, and names of animals etc. They dont know the Russian alphabet, but when they see something in Cyrillic they recognize it immediately being in Russian language. I always have the feeling that if I make the effort, they pick up very quick on this. We even found local Russian school that runs on Saturday mornings for children of Russian families who live in our city. But at the moment it clashes with our Saturday’s circle that we do in our house for Sumayya’s friends.

I really need some inspiration to start with Russian. I can imagine my multi-lingual children speaking in Uzbek, English, Arabic and Russian in a couple of years- it doesn’t hurt being ambitious right lol…inshaAllah perhaps they will if I make the effort. It is not the case that children get confused between several different languages, NO, it is just the case of me finding the resources needed and making the effort.


SLA theories and approaches/methods in Language Teaching


I have wanted to write a short summary of theories behind Second Language Acquisition and give an introductory post on approaches and methods in Language Teaching.  InshaAllah this will help mothers to understand what goes on in child’s brain when they try to acquire a second or third/fourth language. I hope it will help parents to teach their kids Arabic or any other language more effectively .

Anyway, the first thing is, studies have proved that a child’s ability to learn a foreign language is so much higher than that of an adult. It is said that this ability will probably stop somewhere when child reaches the age of 12. That means, a child above 12 needs to make a lot more effort to learn a language.  So the earlier we start teaching a foreign language, the better results we get within shorter space of time.

The language skills are divided into 2 parts: Receptive skills- hear and speak; Productive Skills- read and write. The development of receptive skills will always overtake the latter. Therefore, we should first aid their hear/speak skills in a foreign language. Ideally, they should be exposed to an environment where that language is naturally spoken as much as possible. If teaching Arabic, let them watch Islamic Educational cartoons in Arabic, read aloud Arabic story books, mingle with Arab families where children speak in Arabic etc. Try to incorporate few Arabic phrases and word combinations into your daily life i.e say Ijlis- when asking them to sit down, Ta’li huna- come here etc.

At the same time they should be learning vocabulary. It is best to expand their vocabulary at early stage. Children have no fear of making a mistake when speaking in a foreign language. They are not interested in using the right vocab and grammar rules to construct a sentence. They see language as a whole- a holistic means of getting the message across. Very often they try to express their ideas through one or two words.

We can start teaching them how to read and write once they have developed some receptive skills. If teaching how to read Arabic, for example, child should have some exposure to and understanding of the Arabic language. Some say what is the point of teaching a child to read in Arabic if she/he can’t understand what he/she is reading? And subhanAllah it is so true. But, from an Islamic point of view, we want our children to be able to read the Qur’an. Understanding Qur’an is equally important. But, if child has memorized some surah from Qur’an, they can be taught how to read the Qur’an even if they don’t know the meanings of words used in the book of Allah and their spoken Arabic is very limited. Any other foreign language, I would say a child should have at least enough bank of vocabulary to make out what the story is saying before being taught how to read. But, because children have already memorized certain surah, teaching them how to read those memorized verses would become easy inshaAllah.

A sister asked me recently “what language shall I start with to teach my 4 year old how to read?”. Ideally, she wants to go for English because there are so many resources on the net to help parents. True. But, they don’t live in an English speaking country and they don’t speak English in the family. So the child doesn’t have enough exposure to English. Its sounds, tone and the whole system of language might be very new to her. And what is the point of teaching a child to read in a language if she doesn’t understand what she is reading? It is almost like she recognizes sounds D, O, G and she knows to blend them and pronounce dog but she doesn’t understand what the word means in a language she communicates and uses with the environment around her.

In a nutshell, she might learn how to read in English if taught but she can not relate what she is reading to her own life experience. This might be very frustrating for a child. InshaAllah I would say start teaching how to read in a language a child has most knowledge of at the time. If it is Russian and you live in Russian speaking country, then teach her how to read in Russian first. If child speaks more Uzbek and lives in non-Uzbek speaking country, I would say start with Uzbek and slowly introduce English or the language of the country you live in etc. Remember, we don’t want children merely to be able how to read. We want our children to actually enjoy reading, enjoy learning through books and enjoy what they read to their own life experiences etc. inshaAllah.

I was going to write a short passage about different methods and approaches in Language Teaching with my own preferences. But, subhanAllah this post is taking me  several days. InshaAllah I hope to continue writing on this topic in the future. For now I will have to give a short list of methods I would like to touch on in my upcoming posts. And if moms, educators, parents interested in teaching their children several other languages besides a mother tongue, it would be extremely helpful to learn about these approaches and take what suits them best from each.

Oral Approach and Situational Language Teaching

The Audio-Lingual Method

Total Physical Response

The Silent Way

The Lexical Approach

The Whole Language

The Natural Approach

Neurolinguistic Programming

Communicative Language Teaching

Content Based Instruction

InshaAllah, as and when I get time I will try to write more about each and how we can incorporate them in our daily life in order to help our children learn several other languages from young age.