Mother tongue best for migrants' children
by Debra Aldred
Immigrant parents who speak to their children in English could be damaging their child's language potential, an experienced language teacher has warned.
Logan Institute of TAFE teacher Hazel Davidson, who has spent 17 years teaching English to migrants across Australia, said migrant parents should not speak English to their children, particularly if they do not have a proper understanding of the language themselves.
"We learn to think in a language," Ms Davidson said.
"If the language we hear as young children is defective, then our thought processes will be affected, possibly permanently."
She said many adult migrants took a long time to grasp the essential English concepts of time as it relates to past, present and future tense.
Children, on the other hand, needed to learn about the ideas behind the tenses, such as time, reality, hypothesis and generalisations, complexities "they will not learn by listening to their parents' errors in English."
Ms Davidson said many Australians frowned upon migrant families speaking among themselves in their native language, some interpreting this as a sign that the family was refusing to accept Australian culture.
"Look at them as conscientious parents, passing on accurately to their children their accumulated adult wisdom about the world," she said.
"No matter how well motivated a new arrival is, language learning for adults is a long, hard slog which takes a dismaying amount of time and energy.
"Most native-born Australians have never had to try to conduct their lives day in and day out in another language."
Courier Mail 14 September 1998, p.4