I lived the first four to five years of my life not speaking English. This doesn’t mean I couldn’t, but despite being born in South London, my world was primarily Ghanaian. Having been born into a family who immigrated to the UK only a year before I was born, this meant almost everything we ate, watched and listened to was Ghanaian. The language spoken at home was Ga, and this became my first language.
When I began primary school at the age of five, English became my default mode of communication for the majority of my waking hours, and it is from then my language began to change slowly. At such a tender age, I don’t believe I had the analytical sense to realise this, but it was at that point I could have, with the help of the adults around me, harnessed my ability to master both languages.
Contrary to old linguistic theory, bilingualism doesn’t confuse children or delay their speech. In fact, more recent research has found that when a child speaks more than one language, it improves their memory, concentration and their problem-solving capabilities. What is more, the earlier a second or third language is introduced into a child’s life, the better their acquisition of that language will be. It is for this reason I’m a firm supporter of parents with fluency in a language other than English immersing their children in that language and encouraging them to speak it as much as they can before they begin school where English will dominate.