Travel dates December 2015 – January 2016
In the first 12 months of any child’s life, children develop their foundations of language and speech. It was during this developmental stage, that my wife and I decided to travel to Indonesia with the intention of introducing Ariana to our extended family and most importantly to our Indonesian roots. The trip also included my in-laws who accompanied us on this journey. By undertaking this trip, we did not anticipate that Ariana would not only advance her language and speech development, but also her ability to become bilingual.
By way of background my wife and I were both born in Australia to parents of Indonesian background. Even though we are proud Australians, we are equally as proud of our Indonesian roots. My wife and I equally share the view that it was essential to introduce Ariana to the Indonesian culture at an early stage of her life. We were unsure of the effects Indonesia would have on Ariana before we travelled to Indonesia (be it positive or negative), but we were confident that the time away in Indonesia would be greatly beneficial.
Before we ventured on this trip, Ariana was your a typical 1 year old- cooing, laughing and pronouncing uncomplicated singular words like “mum”, ‘“eat” and “sleep”. There was no expectation that she would learn any Indonesian words/ sentences let alone improve her English vocabulary.
The first indications of her advanced development occurred when we were in the tourist mecca of Bali. Well known for it’s bars and devout followers of the movie/book ‘Eat Pray Love’, we noticed Ariana had a sudden look of intent and interest in her face. Bali was Ariana’s first exposure to Indonesia. It was obvious that Ariana became aware she was in a foreign country. Her burgeoning development must have been greatly challenged, as this was a new experience for her. The look of intent and interest then without warning turned into coherent sentences which had previously never occurred. “Mum, look bike”, our response initially did not take in the significance of the situation “yes darling a bike…. WHAT, you can talk!!”. How did Ariana suddenly convey a coherent sentence? It is arguable that this development, especially at the 1 year stage of her life was eventually going to occur, regardless of our trip to Indonesia. However my observations of Ariana during the course of our trip to Indonesia has wholly convinced me that her language development significantly improved.
In the knowledge that Ariana was now able to convey coherent sentences, my in laws decided to meaningfully speak Bahasa Indonesian to her. It was a strident rule during this trip, that my wife and I spoke English to Ariana whilst my in laws spoke Bahasa Indonesian. As a bare necessity we decided to teach her counting from 1 to 10 in both languages. What amazed us was not that she was able to effectively learn counting from 1 – 10 in both languages, rather it was that she was also able to do so without being prompted. During this development phase babies need to be prompted into counting (i.e. following our lead in pronouncing their numbers numerically). With Ariana already possessing knowledge of being able to count (rather clumsily) 1 -10 in English, she was able to perfect her counting skills after 2 weeks in Indonesia. Compared to 1 year of her life in Australia, where we mostly communicated to her in English with little Indonesian being conveyed to her at home.
It is my view that the sudden challenge of being in a foreign country where little English was being conveyed, forced Ariana into quickly developing her English whilst taking in the new sounds of Bahasa Indonesian. I believe the look of intent in her face was a trigger within her to ensure she rapidly developed her English whilst being freshly exposed to Bahasa Indonesian. I assume she probably thought to herself “What is this new language? Oh no!! I need to quickly learn my English”. By the end of the trip she was also able to convey Indonesian words which included (but not limited to):
- Mobil (car)
- Bis (bus)
- Sepeda (bike)
- Pesawat (airplane)
- Makan (eat)
I’m sure by the words mentioned above, you can tell that we spent a lot of time on the road travelling between different destinations in Indonesia, whilst dealing with a very hungry baby.
The purpose of this story, is not to suggest that Indonesia is the only country best versed at enhancing your child’s language skills. I truly believe that any child exposed to a new foreign country, will quickly develop their familiar language as a defence mechanism in having to quickly grasp the new sounds of a foreign language. This process is what is commonly known as ‘bilingual immersion’. Even though it is possible to enrol your child in a course which may provide this form of bilingual education. Traveling to a foreign country is a guaranteed way to help your child introduce them to a setting whereby their bilingual development will foster effectively. We don’t know what the future of employment will be like for our kids, but I have no doubt that being bilingual will be in high demand in an era of globalisation. If as a parent you are undecided about traveling to a foreign country with your baby, toddler or teenager, think about the exposure they will have in accessing a free language education not accessible in any school classroom or online course.
Chris & Ariana.