Don´t punish the creativity of multilingual children!

If we evaluate multilingual children the same way we do monolinguals, this can block us from recognising creativity in their learning process.

It is natural that the more language is involved, the more room there is for creativity.

Többnyelvű gyermek kreativitása

If we evaluate multilingual children the same way we do monolinguals, this can block us from recognising creativity in their learning process. For example, monolingual families proudly count the words their child creates, when these words have nothing to do with their own language but are the child’s own inventions to describe some of the vitally important objects in their environment. However, when multilingual children employ the same method, doubts often arise over whether this is the result of a deficiency, and the accusation is sometimes made that this must be the result of interference from another language.

We may hear the same criticism when children mix the vocabulary or grammatical structures of one language with another in the same sentence. However, this is one of the most common characteristics of the normal development of a multilingual child. This phenomena is called “languaging”, and it can have very different causes. A child may simply borrow a word from another language because it best describes what they want to say, and it would be more difficult for them to explain it in another language. This method is also used by adults in their conversations and yet in this scenario it does not occur to anyone to question the speaker’s linguistic competence. If you look at it from other perspective, this is how new words enter a language as well. For example, let's think of 2 new words with foreign etymology.

It is natural that the more language is involved, the more room there is for creativity. When bilinguals start learning a third language (for example, after German and Spanish they learn English) they will use the metalinguistic knowledge that they have already acquired from having learned two languages. This knowledge and the learning experience stimulate them to try new word combinations, and after having learned two languages they are much more courageous than they would have been having just had experience with one. It is true that by taking more risks they also make more errors than their monolingual peers. But it is precisely these errors that lead to a better acquisition of the new language.

Likewise, multilinguals are more flexible in their use of language and depend less on verbal expression. This is because their experience shows them that each thing can have different names, or they see the metaphorical meanings that  can be amplified by different cultural sources. For example, Christmas can not only be associated with Christmas trees but also with surfing on the beach.

 

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