All South African parents, of young children, are faced with this dilemma. They know that once their off-spring start school they will have to learn a second language. Many parents are either fluent in Afrikaans or have a good understanding, at least, of the spoken language. It, thus, behoves them to start instructing their prodigy as early as is possible. You, of course, want to avoid confusing the child or impeding their progress, but if you, at least, understand spoken Afrikaans, teach it to your child.
How soon should I start? Am I jumping the gun? Each family will respond differently as a lot will hinge on how your child is developing in terms of his or her home tongue in the first place. Some children start to speak far earlier than others, and, thus, their parents may start the process of exposing them to a second language earlier than their peers.
What then would be an appropriate age at which to start teaching your child to speak Afrikaans?
Let’s take a look.
Bilingualism and Very Young Children: A Good Thing or Not?
From a very early age, babies already respond to their parents’ coos and the mention of their names. Babies, as young as three months old, have neural pathways in place which enable the learning of language. They can, thus, be taught a new language from this tender age already, without any negative consequences.
It is actually a fact that these tender minds enjoy stimulation.
Research has shown that the young child’s brain has developed several circuits for the learning of language, from a very early age. Well, at least, before the age of 7.
There does not appear to be any reason to not start teaching children a new language when they are very young. In fact, it would be the best thing to do. Remember, your child will have to learn a Second Language as from their first year at primary school, when your child will be 6, turning 7.
Is the Learning of Afrikaans for Certain Families Only?
Your child will benefit in numerous ways from the learning of Afrikaans, as a second or foreign language. An obvious benefit arises from the fact that your child will have to learn a First Additional Language (FAL) as from grade 1, initially as a subject and, in subsequent years, as a medium of instruction. The knowledge of the second language will also enable your child to understand others around him and help to minimise misunderstandings and mistrust.
There will also be benefits later on when the young adult enters the world of work: interacting with Afrikaans-speaking clients or with Dutch-speaking visitors. Being able to speak Afrikaans fluently would assist the young person in the field of tourism, business and education. To aid them in this quest, ensure that they use (listen, read, speak and/or view) Afrikaans daily, while maintaining a healthy balance between its use and their mother tongue.
Recent studies have shown that your dominant language is not negatively impacted on by the learning of a new language. So, learning to speak Afrikaans will not be bad for your child or his or her cognitive development. On the contrary, it holds numerous benefits as is alluded to below. Therefore, continue reading to them in Afrikaans, while they follow and make sense by viewing the graphics in story books.
Join in the fun! Sing Afrikaans nursery rhymes and songs to them. Kids love it when their parents play along with them – it makes their learning fun and not so obvious. It will also build a great rapport, as you will be seen to be partnering with them while they’re learning to speak Afrikaans.
Your input will help your little prodigy achieve success and confidence, as they won’t feel alone in their quest, but also because they will see you as an ally and not as a teacher who is dead-set on results. You don’t have to be an Afrikaans guru to help your child. As you work alongside your little one, so your proficiency will also improve, especially if you take the time to prepare yourself beforehand.
Does learning a ‘foreign’ language make your child more intelligent? Should your child learn a second language as soon as possible?
Mastery of a second language does bring about numerous advantages as pertains to:
- Communicative awareness
- Mathematical problems
- Spatial awareness
- Non-verbal problems
- Cognitive flexibility which leads to self-control
Children who are multi-lingual have a distinct advantage over their peers who are monolingual. They have better attention-paying abilities, can adjust better to changes in their environment and bilingual seniors suffer less cognitive decline.
Monolingual children can, of course, be stimulated via music, art and sport. Getting them to learn the Afrikaans language would just add so many more benefits.
Start Them off at Age 3
Your child’s ability to remember may surprise you! Ask any parent who has sworn in front of a toddler. They throw it right back at you when you least expect it and have been known to create many cringe-worthy moments for the elders. Eek!
Afrikaans language cartoons are great for youngsters to watch as they help them expand their vocabulary in a fun, informal way. Many contain repetitive phrases which children like to copy, e.g. “Ek wil iets sê ek gaan dit sê,” which is responded to “Nou sê.” (from the popular cartoon programme Nuustak). Kids, way back, always repeated these lines … some still do, even though they’re all grown up now.
Many would recommend limiting the time children younger than two spend in front of any electronic media, although those norms are changing by the day. Where possible, parents should guide their off-spring to participate in interactive games, rather than being docile recipients of video programmes, when learning Afrikaans.
Whether they want to learn Afrikaans as a first- or second language, there are many resources available to help your child master the Afrikaans language. Stores stock numerous books (story- and textbooks) which have been written on the subject, while online you will encounter YouTube videos (and even channels), websites and series of workbooks. There are also apps on Google Play and resources such as board games and digital games, crosswords, language quizzes and grammar lessons available online, which promise to be great fun!
You could also arrange for a day of games where the children can brush up on their use of Afrikaans in a “play way”!
What is the Best Age to Learn Afrikaans?
It was believed, way back, that a child had to master his mother tongue before learning an additional language. What is true is that, if children only learn the second language after the age of 7, they will not master it to the same extent as which they master their mother-tongue. This means that the way that they learn the foreign language will happen in a way which is different to the way in which the mother-tongue was learned. It does not mean that they will not be able to learn the foreign tongue at all. It may just be a bit more difficult as they’ll be starting later, when the structures of their mother-tongue are grounded in their minds already.
A late starter can, of course, enlist the services of a competent tutor to help them make up the lost ground. A skilful teacher will bring to the table a number of techniques to ensure that the foundational aspects are well and truly grounded and help your child to get off to a flying start. All you need to do is initiate a Google search Afrikaans tutor near me.
At times, children battle with particular aspects of a language because they struggle to adapt to the way the teacher approaches the teaching thereof. This is where the expertise of a tutor, who can provide personalised guidance, is indispensable. They can really put your child in the pound seat.
Afrikaans and School
At the point where a child should be immersed in Afrikaans, he or she is only spending a limited amount of classroom time on it. If he or she is only encountering the language at school for the first time, he has really been placed in a very disadvantaged position. Such a learner needs intensive support! All learners will benefit from daily recital of nursery rhymes and the singing of Afrikaans songs or rhymes. It, thus, behoves any parent to prepare their little ones for what they will inevitably encounter at school. Many parents today complain that they can’t always help their children with their schoolwork. Here is one instance where you can, if you are yourself proficient in Afrikaans. Don’t delay!
Minimum Age to Start Learning Afrikaans
There's no such thing!
The earlier you get going, the better.
An early start allows more time for the acquisition of all the little intricacies of a language. It also doesn’t place pressure on you or your child to have gained proficiency within a limited amount of time.
Make Afrikaans an integral a part of your daily interaction, using fun activities like recitations and songs to keep the learning fun. Chat to your child informally and help them to respond in full sentences; thus, preparing them for real-life conversations with others.
Strapped for time? Superprof has a number of well-equipped professionals to help your child on his or her way.
Don’t forget: there are also a good many apps to make learning great fun on your laptop, tablet or phone … anywhere!