Raising Multilingual Kids in Malaysia

Do you know a lot of foreigners head to Malaysia for education? Indeed, Malaysia is rising as an education hub in Asia. Korean and Japanese parents especially, tend to enrol their kids into language centres in hopes they’ll be bilingual/multilingual.

Multilingual?  Is bilingual not enough?

It is often assumed that multilingual children are the products of overachieving parents,
but this is far from the truth, for any child can be nurtured into becoming a language
expert. In Malaysia, kids typically grow up to be fluent in their mother tongue and the
national language. While many of them remain bilingual for the rest of their lives, an
increasing number of parents are looking to raise a multilingual child who is fluent in
more than two languages. – They should start early, though.

When is the ideal age to start?

It’s a well-established fact that the best time for a child to pick up a second language is
between birth until the age of 10. It’s within this window of time that the brain is not just capable of learning new things, but it’s wired in a way that it’s at its peak capacity of developing language skills and expands to easily accommodate a second (or third)
language as it develops and matures. The point here is that while anyone can master a
new language, kids below the age of ten have an advantage over the rest.

How can children benefit by being multilingual?

In terms of benefits, children who are multilingual are said to have greater thinking
capabilities from single-language speakers, plus they enjoy advantages not only in
terms of future life options but also in the form of superior cognitive abilities.

Futuristically speaking, globalization itself is set to bring about radical changes and new
work positions into the market. Today’s parents who seek long-term benefits do not
think twice about enrolling their kids into foreign language education as early as 2-3
years old. These are mainly in the form of enrichment centers. It’s quite safe to say that
every city in Malaysia has dozens of language centers catering to children’s language
education. It needs to be known here too, that although English is the primary language
of business and commerce the world over, the demand for multilingual professionals is
steadily increasing and it is only going to grow in the future.

How to help your child to build a new language?

Other than enrolling in language enrichment centres, parents can engage many other
creative ways to help their kids acquire fluency in a new language. These include the
use of flashcards at home, watching foreign movies and having your child practice the
new language with people who are native speakers.

The act of speaking a foreign language actually exercises a child’s brain like no other
activity can, and strengthens it through word recognition, translation and communication
processing in different language systems. This ability also boosts the brain’s ability to
interpret and find solutions to problem-solving tasks as well. Statistically, children who
have a background in other languages have been found to score better in standardized
tests, especially in Mathematics, reading and vocabulary.

Children who are multilingual tend to switch between at least two forms of speech,
writing and grammar structure. As such, this ability to juggle between different thought
patterns make them efficient multi-taskers too as they grow and develop both physically
and mentally.

Monolingual? The time for a change is now

Many local and foreign parents in Malaysia, especially if they themselves are
monolingual, are realising the profound benefits of raising multilingual children and
taking up new languages early in life makes it easier if the child wants to acquire even
more languages later on. Hence, those who are still ‘sitting on the fence’ on this one
should consider exposing their child to a second or third language now.



Cindy Fernandez. Writer

Cindy has been in the publication industry since 1996. She started off writing free lance while running her own daycare center. She has written for dozens of local Bahasa Malaysia and English magazines. In 2009 she took up editorship for a local magazine and today, she is the editor of a local baby magazine as well as two top bi-annual parenting guidebooks.

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