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Children in Multilingual World

Linguistic diversity reflects the existence of the huge number of languages spoken in the world which is variously estimated at between 6,000 and 7,000 languages. Multilingualism or bilingualism is the use of more than one language in daily life. In Australia where I completed my bachelor degree of early childhood studies, multicultural or multilingual education is one big challenge and also main focus of the early childhood curriculum. According to the Australian government population census, during the 1990s Australia received 900,000 migrants and in 2001-2002 alone nearly 88,900 people arrived to settle in Australia. Thus, it is very common to have children who have non English speaking backgrounds in the Australian early childhood settings.

Multilingual education refers to the use of at least three languages, the mother tongue, a regional or national and an international language as mediums of instruction in education. It addresses the specific needs of particular, culturally and linguistically distinct communities. In regions where the language of the learner is not the official or national language of the country, multilingual education can make mother tongue instruction possible while providing at the same time the acquisition of languages used in larger areas of the country and the world. The expressed goal I remember being discussed in one lecture relating to multilingual education is to develop a common Australian identity but one that retains the separate linguistic and cultural identities.

The kindergarten where I used to work had few children from Italian speaking background, and they offered children an Italian lesson once a week taught by one of the parents. During the lesson, children learnd nursery rhymes in Italian and even learnt how to cook Italian food. Children seemed absolutely loving learning the language of their friends and being able to say a new word in a new language. What more, it also gave children a great opportunity to understand different cultural practices from their own, and celebrating these differences. At other time, all children are required to learn to communicate in English regardless of their mother tongue, and various supports are provided in learning English. Therefore, in Australia, many children communicate in English with their friends and teachers throughout a day at school and communicate in their mother tongue when there are home.

I believe being in such multilingual world from young is great in mastering languages, however, it can also be quite challenging for young children regarding their identity formation. That is, learning language can have a great impact on one's understanding of her/his own identity and of others, and also understanding of how the world functions. Here I shared my experience in one multilingual society Australia. When taking into account the increasingly globalized society, Japan may become another multilingual country one day. It would be very meaningful and significant for Japan and all other nations to start being sufficiently aware of the practice and meaning of the multilingual education.
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