Berlin scientists warn: German obligation at home harms language acquisition

09.12.2014

A good knowledge of German is a prerequisite for successful integration. However, the German language skills of children with a migration background are often below average. The CSU therefore demands that migrants speak German at home. From a scientific point of view, however, this is counterproductive and can even have harmful effects, according to Prof. Dr. Manfred Krifka, Director of the Centre for General Linguistics (ZAS) in Berlin.

"The demand is wrong and can have fatal consequences for the entire development of a child. The native language forms the basis for a healthy development and successful multilingualism. Only a child who has successfully acquired a language can also successfully acquire a second language, such as German."

Scientific proof has long since been given: It is good when parents speak the language with their children that they themselves speak best. If migrants who do not speak German as a mother tongue themselves and still speak German with their children instead of their native language, the children's knowledge of German will not improve. This is confirmed by a ZAS study with Russian-speaking children. In addition, a poor knowledge of the language of origin can lead to identity and relationship problems in the family in the long term.

Language acquisition begins at the changing table. It is important for children to have an emotionally and cognitively rich linguistic environment as early as possible. The best way to achieve this is for the parents to speak to the child in their own language. A good relationship to the family language also has an effect on the second language.

Children should also learn German as early as possible. If another language is spoken at home, then regular attendance at a day-care centre is particularly important, if possible with German children and with nursery nurses who can promote the child's language skills.

To this end, kindergarten teachers must also be trained. In cooperation with the Berlin Interdisciplinary Network for Multilingualism (BIVEM), ZAS is currently investigating which language support measures are particularly useful for younger migrant children. If they succeed, bilingualism and multilingualism are desirable - for the cognitive and social development of the children, and for the cultural and economic development of the state in which they grow up.

Further information and tips for parents and pedagogical specialists can be found at www.zas.gwz-berlin.de/bivem.html

Contact:
Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft
Manfred Krifka, krifka@zas.gwz-berlin.de
Natalia Gagarina, gagarina@zas.gwz-berlin.de
Tel. (030) 20 192-506/-401