I grew up in a musical family. My mother is a piano teacher and a church organist; my father is a banjo-playing folk singer; and my brother is a successful composer.
I didn’t pursue music as seriously—I was known mostly for honking on an oboe—but music has been an important influence in my life and I’ve wanted my own children to be touched by the power of music, too.
And when it comes to nurturing the bilingual ability of my kids, music has been a mainstay of my efforts.
Easy language exposure
From the time Lulu and Roy were born, I’ve relied on a clunky CD player and a modest collection of CDs to provide our home with a steady stream of background music—lullabies, folk songs, children’s tunes, movie and TV soundtracks, musicals, classical music, jazz, pop, rock, country, world music, and Christmas carols.
One goal, naturally, is my desire to foster an appreciation for music of all kinds. At the same time, I believe emphasizing music in the minority language has played an important role in laying a firm foundation for their English ability.
And it’s so easy! All you need is a CD player and some CDs (or any sort of music-making device) and a commitment to playing music regularly in the background while your children are within earshot. (Please note that “regularly” doesn’t mean “relentlessly”—time for peace and quiet is essential, too!)
Making use of music in this way is something any parent who’s determined to increase the odds of raising a child with good bilingual ability can implement with little expense or effort. And for the most part, you don’t even need to be present, particularly when the child is a bit older and playing on his own. Just keep up that steady stream of music and the positive impact of this exposure—hundreds, even thousands of hours of additional language exposure—will occur quietly and incrementally over time.
To further put the odds in your favor, I would also suggest that you limit the amount of music you play in the majority language. In our case, for example, 95% of our CDs are music in English; we have very few CDs of Japanese music. Your circumstances may be different, and demand a different sort of balance, but since Lulu and Roy get plenty of Japanese in their lives throughout the day in Japanese schools (and from their mother and friends), I need to place a stronger emphasis on English wherever I can find the opportunity.
Here’s the tricky part
When it comes to children’s music, the tricky part involves making suitable choices—and by suitable, I mean music that satisfies these three conditions:
- The language is clear and can be absorbed by the child, whether the listening is done actively or passively.
- The child will enjoy hearing it—or at least won’t stage a protest when you play it.
- The parents will enjoy hearing it, too—or at least won’t be driven to tearing out tufts of hair when it’s played over and over and over again.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no expert when it comes to children’s music—and that I’ve lost a significant amount of hair over the years as a result. (That darn “Barney” CD!) So perhaps this is an opportunity for me to expand my own knowledge of this field, while my kids are still pretty small, and be of some help to other parents in the same boat.
Over the next week or so, I’ll set out to compile a handy list of popular artists of children’s music, with links that include listening samples of their songs. I’ll then share these findings in a follow-up to this post, along with some of the better-than-Barney music I’ve been using at home.