Berlin scientists: Migrants should speak their mother tongue with their children

21.02.2014

The results are clear and alarming: despite extensive support measures, the German language skills of primary school pupils are getting worse and worse. Since almost every second child in Berlin now has a migrant background, there are repeated calls for migrants to speak more German at home.

Science has long proved the opposite: it is good for parents to speak the language they speak best with their children. When migrants speak German with their children instead of their native language, the children's native language deteriorates without their German language skills improving. This is confirmed by a study with Russian-speaking children, conducted at the Centre for General Linguistics (ZAS) in Berlin. In addition, a poor knowledge of the children's language of origin can lead to identity and relationship problems in the family in the long term.

Language acquisition begins at the changing table. For children, it is important that they have a high-quality and quantitative linguistic environment as early as possible. The best way to achieve this goal is for the parents to speak their mother tongue and the teachers to speak German to the children. Regular attendance at a day care centre is particularly important in order to ensure sufficient linguistic input in German.

Bilingual children can often show superficial similarities in language production with mono-lingual children with specific language development disorders. Since the usual language tests are designed for monolingual German-speaking children, misdiagnoses often occur and, as a consequence, false support measures are taken.

The Berliner Interdisziplinäre Verbund für Mehrsprachigkeit (BIVEM) (Berlin Interdisciplinary Network for Multilingualism) researches these interrelations; initiated by ZAS Berlin in 2011 and launched with the support of the Berlin Senate. At present it is being investigated which language support measures make sense at all for younger migrant children, since the language support measures used so far are obviously not effective enough at high costs.

On 26 March, the ZAS event "The multilingual classroom: How much German does a Berlin schoolchild need?" will take place in the French Friedrichstadtkirche.

Contact:
Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, www.zas.gwz-berlin.de, Tel. (030) 20192-506
Manfred Krifka, krifka@zas.gwz-berlin.de
Natalia Gagarina, gagarina@zas.gwz-berlin.de
Insa Gülzow, guelzow@zas.gwz-berlin.de