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By Karabo Motsiri Mokoena

Writer. Conversationalist. South African Mommy Blogger,Content Producer

Like many parents, Linda Mtoba is intentional about teaching baby Bean other languages except English

Language is a big part of teaching a child about their identity.

Giving her thoughts on language education for children, actress Linda Mtoba shared a thread on Twitter about the celebration she receives because her daughter Bean understands isiZulu and isiXhosa. 

Bean, having been born from a black mother and white father, has created an expectation that she only speaks English, based on the assumption that English is the language Mtoba uses to speak to her husband. 

Her series addressed her thoughts on learning one’s mother tongue as “teaching”. According to her, “in as much as efunda (she is learning) yes, but when you speak to your child in isiZulu or any other vernacular is not ‘teaching’ it’s a means of communication (niyakhuluma) not out of the ordinary, it’s the same with me and us.”

Also Read: Is my child speaking too much English?

Mtoba explained that a child’s learned inclination towards her mother tongue should not be viewed as abnormal. 

Language forms a big part of a child’s identity, and Mtoba is being intentional about ensuring that her bi-racial child will grow and know who she is. 

According to the Child Development Institute, “the first five years are most critical, but language development continues throughout early childhood and into adolescence”. This means that children learn a language from the moment they are born until they are between 12 and 19 years old. 

The best and easiest way to help children develop language skills is through talking, singing or reading with them. And this is why it is important to make sure that the books you read to them are written in their home language. 

Also read: Ethnikids: An online book store for black children

According to the Multilingual Parenting site, kids can learn up to three languages at a time. Experts say that “about 30% of a child’s waking hours need to be spent in a language to obtain conversational fluency, so, realistically, you’re looking at a maximum of three languages”. 

Also Read: Excuse my language

If it’s more than that, your child might have conversational fluency with other languages and a basic understanding of others. Which one will depend on the frequency of one over the others. Language expert Nick Jaworski said that children pick up a language in their environment depending on how often it was spoken. 

So, if you want your children to be as fluent in their home language as English, you have to notice which language you speak more often around the house. It is not only about the language you use when you are addressing them. It’s also about the one you use when addressing others. 

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