Learning multiple languages does nothing but good

Students having tuition at a community centre. PHOTO: CMG

The study by National University of Singapore researchers, albeit involving only a small study group, is reassuring and encouraging to us particularly when we live in a multicultural society like Singapore (Language, dialect heard in infancy never really forgotten, study shows, Sept 3).

The study reinforces much of what is known about the robust and extensive capabilities of the brains of young children to learn and retain multiple languages or dialects even when exposed to these simultaneously.

Science has proved what we observe in our daily lives about the unique capacities of our brains.

The fear that children are able to only learn one or two languages at a time and that they will be confused by exposure to multiple languages is unwarranted.

Importantly, the fear that learning other languages or dialects may reduce a child's proficiency in English is unfounded.

On the contrary, exposure to or learning several languages when young is beneficial for brain development.

So let us relax. Let grandparents and family members communicate with children using dialect or languages that are most comfortable to them.

Let us expose our children to the richness and beauty of other cultures and ethnic groups through exploration of their languages and dialects.

Language is an important tool for effective communication, which is itself an essential element of meaningful interpersonal relationships.

Enrichment programmes in schools may be more enriching if schools can use the time to creatively expose children to languages in our multi-ethnic community. In this context, I hope that the learning of our national language may be rekindled for all school children. Even if it is only to improve their skills in speaking the national language, the effort is worthwhile and meaningful.

Associate Professor Leher Singh's study has shown promising results. It is worthwhile supporting such studies as the results are relevant to us living in a multicultural and multi-ethnic society. Language is certainly an essential tool to explore the vast and rich cultures in our society and a means towards social cohesiveness. We have a ready multi-ethnic platform for exposure to multiple languages which is good for our brains and good for our society. Why waste it?

Ho Ting Fei (Dr)

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2019, with the headline Learning multiple languages does nothing but good. Subscribe