It’s been almost exactly a year since I wrote a blog post discussing my efforts to use Gaelic with my daughter in the home. She’ll be four in November and we’re still going, and I think that our challenges – and my attempted strategies – are relevant for those using any minority/minoritized language at home, especially when there is a lack of a social community to reinforce the language in the local environment.
Positive Affirmation. I feel more convinced than ever that early learning is a social process that forms, and is nurtured by, emotional bonds. Children at this age want to connect to other people, especially adults, and seek approval and positive affirmation. It’s very hard to avoid the ingrained, automatic habit of praising her for her looks, but we attempt as much as possible to complement her for being smart and capable of doing things. She understands the importance of intelligence and capability and clearly looks for reinforcement on those areas.
I stated to her recently that people who speak two languages are twice as smart as people who only speak one. She then proceeded to claim that she speaks three languages (having picked up on the existence of Spanish from our environment), and has boasted of her linguistic skills to family members. In fact, she’s attempted to teach some Gaelic to our parents who have visited lately. And this, I think, confirms the point that emotional and social bonds are an inherent part of the learning process for children that informs their self-worth.
Highlight Linguistic Diversity: Anglophones tend to be highly monolingual and monocultural, so normalizing multilingualism is important to keep children engaged. Point out when other people are speaking other languages, teach phrases in other languages, and ask to share and exchange bits of language and linguistic cultural (like songs) with other children and parents.
Reading Materials: We have always read a lot with our daughter and she is greatly interested in letters and reading now. Although there are a number of good Gaelic books out there, not least those produced by Acair Ltd, we can only afford to make occasional purchases and they are dwarfed by the number and variety of those in English. We can’t ignore or dismiss that reality.
I try to read at least one book in Gaelic to her at night-time, but even I get a bit weary of the redundancy that comes from our limited selection. Whenever I do read a book in English to her, I always make asides and comment upon the contents of the text and the illustrations in Gaelic. This, I think, helps to keep Gaelic in our dialog and to bridge the bilingual divide. Given that her English will be inevitably stronger than her Gaelic (due to the lack of a language community), these asides facilitate her comprehension of Gaelic by relating it to what we do and read in English.
Keep It Fun: Again, given that learning is ultimately a social process, forming and nurturing emotional bonds, it’s important to keep it as fun as possible. Sing songs, make up rhymes and stories, include their names in things, make videos of them using the language …