Teaching Foreign languages Seems to be Dilemma for Preschool-aged Children

The increase number of parents in preparing their children to be bilingual is one of the facts parents are more aware to the importance of (foreign) languages as a tool of communication in the middle of globalization. Besides some other positive impacts on mastering global languages such English, Chinese and French to increase children’s cognitive ability and enhance their academic skills, it also opens children’s career opportunities widely in the future (Jakarta Post, February 02, 2010). For the reason being bilingual may economically gain speakers from language shift, without realized, but it is surely only my opinion that we should consider children’s specific language impairment (SLI) associated with mastering children’s mother tongues and another aspect like language as an identity.

It may be true that children who are proficient in second languages may have greater cognitive development because of their frequency of using it. Zakarias`s argument (in Jakarta Post, February 02, 2010) seems to be that students provided two languages may have most creative solutions to solve the complex problems compared to students who don’t. The perspective presented here is that exposing a world language to pre-school aged children may fail offspring to acquire normal language function in children’s mother tongues acquisition. Even though some people believe that breaking down of children’s language function can be subsequently recovered in certain areas when they are in adult ages, but the emergence of language during the toddler period is one of the most striking accomplishing in young children’s development (Rice, Taylor, and Zubrick, 2008).

From the medical point of view, Hellal (2009) stated that acquired loss or disorder of language damages a specific area of the left hemisphere and it forms of brain trauma that is known by the term ‘aphasia’. Broca has revealed the area where language resides in the brain. He conducted his research based on his two patients who had lost the ability to speak. One patient, Lelong, could produce only five words, and the second, Leborgne, could utter only one sound – “tan”. After their death, Broca examined their brains and noticed that both had damage to a region in the frontal area on the left side (Broca`s area is now taught to be the brain’s speech-processing center).

It is also claimed that children who have ability to communicate a second language can benefit them to live in two different societies and appreciate cultural diversities (Jakarta Post, February 02, 2010). Ishaq (2010) stated that the next generation, so this argument goes, must be imbued with new systems of thinking and feeling with global cultural understanding. While I admit that encouraging multicultural awareness of other countries for preschool-aged children is beneficial when they are adolescence, but it may help children to stay away from their local identity and values. Indeed, the decisive and major role in shaping children’s way of thinking is associated with how children are grown.

In Indonesia context, there is a big change recently that parents tend to not speak local languages to their children. It is now fairly common in family members` daily interaction to use English as a foreign language (or other foreign languages) rather than apply local languages such as Java, Madura, Batak, Bima, etc, to their children. Consequently, children may hinder from mother tongue development. More than anything else, language is identity. Crystal stated that language express aspects of a person’s psychological, social, ethnic and national identities.

It is enough to prompt the tentative conclusion that applying a foreign language to pre-schoolers may hinder children’s language development from mastering their own mother tongue and can stay children away from their own culture. Without ignoring that foreign languages are also essential for children in future time, parents as the best teachers in children language acquisition so as to children can attain the same linguistic experiences in their early ages should think twice to use a foreign language to children under 5 years old. If we don’t, in long-term period, local languages may be endangered.


About Halili

Indonesian student of Master of Language Studies at Flinders University, South Australia.
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