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Raising bilingual children: support on the journey

Here at ECSC, we have long championed the benefits of bilingualism – being able to use two languages in everyday life. Research has shown that children who grow up learning more than one language experience many advantages, such as connection with family culture and history, broader opportunities for travel and employment, and even improved memory and cognitive ability. There are also many benefits for the wider community, such as a better appreciation of different languages and cultures, and the economic benefits of stronger ties with other parts of the world. Despite the closure of our physical borders to many parts of the world, effective communication across language and cultural divides remains as critical as ever to enabling a peaceful and prosperous future for our world.

However, it’s not always easy raising bilingual children! It can take a lot of effort, and many bilingual families experience pressure to speak only English. Bilingual families need support to persevere on the journey of raising bilingual children.

One of the key forms of support is meeting with other bilingual families, to share experiences and to be reminded that ‘you are not alone’. Bilingual playgroups, such as ECSC’s IDEA Pathway playgroups, are a great opportunity to meet with other bilingual families and enjoy stories, songs and games in community languages. Even when we couldn’t meet together physically, our playgroup team kept families connected and continued to encourage bilingual children to practice their home languages, through hosting virtual story times and singalongs in 11 different community languages. These are now available as a collection of 32 songs and 21 stories on our Bicultural Support Facebook page, with over 20,665 views and counting!

Another challenge for bilingual families can be the transition to formal education settings, such as preschool and school. There is often a fear that a bilingual child may take longer to settle in and make friends, understand information or even to feel comfortable in the new environment. Education providers may feel out of their depth in supporting bilingual children to settle in while also encouraging them to speak both English and their home language. Providers may not be aware of the benefits of bilingualism; or may be fully committed to supporting bilingualism but are unsure of where to begin.

This is where ECSC’s Bicultural Support program can make all the difference. Our Bicultural Support Workers are available to support children as they settle in to Early Childhood Education and preschool, through customised programs built around the needs of both the child and the centre. We facilitate effective communication, enable understanding, and build confidence of both children and educators. The result is early education settings which celebrate diversity in meaningful ways, and children who feel a strong sense of belonging and identity. All children in the centre benefit, as they have increased opportunity to build friendship and understanding with children who come from a different cultural background to themselves.

In Australia’s multicultural society, building understanding and respect between people from different cultural backgrounds is essential to productivity and harmony. Supporting families to raise bilingual children is a critical part of enabling mutual understanding to flourish. What steps can you take to support bilingual families in your community or workplace?

Ingrid Boland, Social Work Consultant for ECSC

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