A Multilingual life – how children manage bi and multi lingualism

At Angsana Education our driving philosophy has always been that children learn more creatively and productively in two or more languages. We believe in multi-lingual early and primary years learning programs that take advantage of this optimal time in a child’s life for language acquisition and development. In this multi-lingual environment children have the opportunity to experience and play with language, to develop proficiency and fluency as part of their everyday lives in partnership with us, their families and communities.

You may have experienced the strong family and community cultural bonds that support you and your child to be bi and multilingual. This may be from your extended family, social groups, afterschool cultural activities, movies and books. We know that being bi and multilingual gives children lifelong skills and that a strong first language assists the development of strong second and subsequent languages.

This can take time and effort on both the child’s and your part as parent.

So how do children manage this?

  • Firstly they need lots of exposure to and opportunities to listen, hear and process sounds in two or more languages.
  • They need encouragement.
  • They learn to associate certain sounds with actions and discern meaning.
  • They hear tones, pitch, intonation patterns, gestures, words, sentences and learn to associate these with a particular language.
  • Their brains create neural pathways to facilitate each language.
  • Children have flexible speech and ear muscles that detect differences between each language.
  • Bi and multilingual children demonstrate cognitive flexibility – their brain must select the appropriate language to use in a given situation, often switching quickly between languages.
  • They manage this multiple language learning also because at an early age children have not developed negative attitudes about learning or their ability to process information. They can make mistakes and learn from these. They can practise.


Vocabulary, speaking, listening, grammar, reading and writing are all elements of language learning. For bi and multilingual children there are complementary and separate elements of language learning that not only enhance their skills but may lead to opportunities over their monolingual peers. 

But it’s not all roses…….

As parents you need realistic expectations. Your child may well not be fluent in the second language for years. Just as learning a first language takes time. Patience, support and encouragement are key to this. Don’t lose heart. The parent of a bilingual five year old I know notes that her child is now starting to answer her in English rather than his first language (the mother’s native language). This is a common development when children start early learning and primary school and notice that their peers and teachers speak English. The children assume that because it is more commonly spoken then it must be better. Children also wish to fit in with their peers. This is where your parental resolve and resilience is needed. Try and continue to use your first language despite your child answering in English. They will continue to hear and absorb, to think and translate in their first language and to keep those neural pathways firing.     



Mary Digges *

MDR Education

Early Childhood Consultant for Angsana Education. 

* Mary Digges is an early childhood teacher, lecturer, trainer, assessor and consultant in education and has long promoted bilingual and multilingual education. Mary has worked in Australia, Singapore and China.



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