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Sub-Saharan Immigrants Children Language Challenges

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

If you ask any parents what is their second preoccupation after getting a secured job in America, they will almost all reply "the future of our kids". One area of challenge for Sub-Saharan immigrants in language adaptation.

The goal of this article is to enlighten parents on child development differences between their children and natives.

We received the diagnosis that our child had a language delay on understanding and talking skills in English when he was just 13 months.

During the discussion with the evaluators, I was confident that our son had no problem, and I explained to them it's too early to make any psychological conclusion on our child's language development.

The other things I raised were that in my country, some children manifest the expected language skills at two years old or more. And nobody considers it a problem. So it might be with our kid.

Finally, I asked if the fact the child is exposed to 2 languages could explain their diagnosis.

I remembered I read a book (I don't remember the title or the author) saying that firstborn babies present some characteristics. Because they are alone for generally the first two years, they develop more autonomy, speak less, and are also less sociable (Not autistic).

To cope with first children's real challenges, parents have to encourage them to participate in a lot of social activities with kids of the same age; if not, they could sink into behavioral problems like arrogance, narcism, etc.

According to some pediatricians and psychologists, we met and read, children not born in the USA could have some speech delay (up to 4 years old), not pathological but related to the fact that children are learning two languages at the same time.

I was so happy when I saw the article that I forwarded it to my wife…and we started applying some tips to help grow our child language:

– we identified he understands English better than French, and we started giving him instruction in English.

The reason was that learning tools like videos (Chu-Chu TV) were all in English, and usually, the words learned while watching are the ones he could easily repeat and master.

– we kept speaking naturally French my wife and I and notice he could pick some words and understand their meaning.

As our baby was growing, we notice a change in his behavior due to some factors:

-Active presence and interaction with our son -Spending time with other kids.

I found the book "back to normal" of Enrico Gnaulati and was happy to discover we had the same view on children development matters.

The only difference I have with his ideas is that his approach does not include such knowledge for immigrants children born outside America.

Based on my readings and my experience with my son, the reasons for such wrong diagnosis on immigrants children development could be :

Over Scientisize children's behavior. This is because every action could be misinterpreted if we always try to put it in theory. It could be it's just a behavior that makes him unique and different.

-Ignorance of cultural child development differences. If a professional is not trained to integrate cross-cultural parameters in their curriculum, they could be inefficiently dealing with some immigrants children's issues. A lot of the wrong diagnoses could be due to a lack of cross-culture in training. This is more difficult if the knowledge is only in books and not in practice.

If you are a french speaking reader and you would like your kids to integrate the Sub-Saharan cultural aspect of the language, get a copy of the CD on Amazon.

-The need for funding. This area raised a lot of controversies, and I prefer to have a different approach to it. Finance could be directed into real children's needs like the training of more bilingual teachers, more cross-cultural training on the professional curriculum in every organization.

-The wrong experts? Technically, only experts like pediatricians or child psychologists with adequate cross-cultural background training are equipped to make any diagnosis on immigrants children's development. Without this, a lot of parents would suffer medicating and over petting a child supposed to grow normally.

-Not considering parents' views is a mistake. Piaget and the first children development experts based their theories on their children's observations. A lot could be learned through parents who spend more time with their kids.

-Not considering past child history. It could be interesting to track the child's development back from the country where he was born. This may help understand differences in immigrants children's language development.

Could you share the challenging experiences you faced with children as a parent, teacher, trainer, or friend?

Herve Ngate

Africans4future Network

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