Generations on, many families of Greek heritage who live in Australia still yearn for their children to learn Greek. One of the reasons I created a bilingual English/Greek edition ofCatch that Cat! was to serve this need. Through the provision of quality literature and an engaging story children are introduced to the value of learning and appreciating two languages; essentially being encouraged to explore culture and new ideas through language.
We often marvel at how young children can absorb a new language in their few short years, while we as adults can spend an entirety studying to fully master another tongue. The reason has to do with the brain chemistry of very young children. They possess what Noam Chomsky calls a “language-learning device,” which allows them to passively absorb the grammar and pronunciation of multiple different languages without having to actively study the rules of language (Chomsky, 1965). This can begin to fade as early as the teenage years, making it essential to start early!
By five years of age, a child can become completely fluent in both languages (Leung and Kao, 1999). It also helps a child be more creative and open-minded (Ricciardelli, 1992). Later in life, the familiarity with two different systems of language will make subsequent language acquisition easier and help deepen the understanding of both languages.
From a purely personal perspective, bilingualism will let the child be closer to their family living abroad. Learning Greek (or any language used by a child’s family) will help them to communicate effectively and develop more meaningful connections with them.
In Catch that Cat! I’ve aimed to easily introduce children to Greek vocabulary with simple words like Yiayia, Greek names, gatta (cat) and koukla mou (my little doll). Reading the story together and learning the words is a great way to encourage an interest and curiosity about Greek history and culture in children of a young age. You can find out more about the book here.
Ultimately, the decision to raise a child in two languages will depend upon every family’s resources and abilities. The benefits, however, that accrue from such an investment, especially when a natively English-speaking child learns Greek, are so numerous that there is no reason not to do and every reason to pursue it.
Chomsky, N. 1965. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. MIT Press.
Leung, A, and Kao, C.P. 1999. Evaluation and Management of the Child with Speech Delay. American Family Physician, 59.11: 3121-8.
Ricciardelli, L. 1992. Creativity and Bilingualism. The Journal of Creative Behavior 26.4.
Photo Credit: Raise Smart Kid