"Being immersed in a good language environment, both spoken and written, help children tremendously in their language development." -- Early Years Development Framework
The above aptly describes the relationship between children, language development and the environment. In this article, we discuss how a conducive learning environment can contribute to language development and the learning of the Mother Tongue Language of children up to three years of age.
CHILDREN'S STAGES OF LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
0-1 year old -- Two-way communication between child and adult is the best way to lay strong foundations for language development and learning. If there is only language input (from a TV programme, for instance), this may inhibit the child’s language development.
1-2 years old -- Children learn to express themselves with words. Daily, real-life exposure to a bilingual environment is essential for infants and children to express themselves in both languages.
2-3 years old -- The child hears and processes words and information via the brain's language centre. Interactions with both the adults who model good language and the materials and resources in the environment have a profound effect on children's language development. The more words the children are exposed to the greater his vocabulary grows.
LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT AND A CONDUCIVE ENVIRONMENT
Creating a conducive setting for language development and learning of Mother Tongue Languages in pre-schools include establishing a resource rich and an emotionally positive or affective environment.
Materials -- A range of language related materials, information and resources can be used to stir children's interest. Expose children to a variety of songs in the English and a Mother Tongue Language; let children have access to bilingual storybooks, language games and picture cards; display words matching the various facilities within a classroom and children's work. Teachers can also use pictures to help children understand simple sentences. When children are able to see and experience a language, linguistic input establishes a connect with the brain's language centre. Through this process, a second language is acquired.
Affective Environment -- Create a relaxed and nurturing environment that facilitates interpersonal communication where children are able to use the English and Mother Tongue Language to communicate with their friends, teachers and family. A safe, happy and harmonious environment invites children to take risks, make mistakes and learn. Teachers can support language learning by describing various situations that are part and parcel of a child's routines and transitions in both English and Mother Tongue Language. This can include food, clothing, traffic, home, animals, toys, scenery, feelings and so on. Making connections to a child's daily experience will make language learning more meaningful and personable.
Communication and partnership between families and the pre-school can help encourage children's language development and Mother Tongue Language acquisition in the early years. Teachers can share with parents the new vocabularly list of words children have learnt in the course of a particular week. When parents communicate with their children, they can make a point of using these new words. This will reinforce what the child has learnt in class and facilitate a continuity of learning between the pre-school and home. Parents can be involved in their children;s language learning process by borrowing storybooks from the library and reading them with their child at home.
More importantly, have fun! This goes a long way in developing a child's love for and appreciation of the Mother Tongue Language.
Dr Hu Rong holds a PhD and Master Degree in Chinese Language and Literature, Bachelor in Economics, Diploma in Early Childhood Teaching and Certificatie in Pre-school teaching. She worked as a Chinese Pre-school teacher in Singapore for 7 years and accumulated another 13 years of experience conducting early childhood teacher training. She has also given talks on pre-school bilingual education and shared her experience about Chinese Language Study for early childhood teachers in Singapore.