English is primarily used amongst majority of Singaporeans - we pick up the telephone and we say “hello ?” the first thing. But when we realise that the customer service officer at the other end of the phone is a Tamil-speaking Indian, we do not ask if they speak Tamil. We do not see a need to pursue the conversation in Tamil, even after being aware that we can.
In an environment where English reigns comfortably, learning Tamil could be quite a chore. It is especially when the pressure is mounting to make Tamil language compulsory in a child’s education that they start dreading their Tamil classes in school. Why do we face issues when it comes to raising bilingual children ?
Languages don’t have a formula behind them. They are not taught, but observed by young children, and it always has to start from home. Lack of support from home will mean that the child cannot cope in second language classes outside of home because there will never be a conducive environment that can reinforce. What is learnt in class will stay in class, and that shouldn’t be the case.
At the same time, robust support from home but lack of school support can also lead to a similar consequence of the child never being able to pick up a second language. If the school does not have Tamil classes, the child lacks additional aid in that area and might not see the importance of learning it.
At this point, how can we help parents out ?
At every stage of a child’s growth, parents need to remind themselves that it is never an easy process. Raising bilingual children must involve a lot of patience and consistency - it’s a long-term commitment.
Start small. Start by speaking to them in Tamil at home. Allow them to ease in with the familiarity of the language in their own homes and make it a norm. Home is the best place to hone a child’s confidence and facilitate their growth, so start from home.
Speak, but allow resources at home to further motivate them. Storybooks, toys and resources to aid in the learning of a new language provides a better relief for parents than to solely rely on oratorical and written skills. Moreover, these resources can be used to create a conducive and fun environment, where the child does not grow up dreading to learn Tamil.
If you want to introduce Tamil story books to your child, but have no clue on what to get, we got you.
In our continuous efforts to recognise vendors who contribute to the Tamil language scene in Singapore, we encourage parents to have a look at tamilforkids, an online vendor dedicated to providing resources for you to help facilitate your child’s learning of Tamil. tamilforkids has alphabet flashcards and simple writing exercises to help your child warm up and gear up for Tamil. Look no further, tamilforkids got you.
These are just some tips for parents who want to start young. Along the way, as they are slowly exposed to a school environment, it becomes relatively manageable, thanks to the prior sustenance provided.
Above all, remember to go easy on the expectations that you have of your child. Bilingualism does not happen overnight, it takes effort and time.