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More language support programs to be launched for multicultural families

More language support programs will be launched for multicultural families this year, according to the Gender Equality Ministry and municipal governments.

The programs have been organized to encourage multicultural children to learn their parents’ mother tongues as well as the Korean language.

They consist of classes for the migrant’s spouse and Korean in-laws on the importance of bilingual education, as well as separate sessions for foreign-born parents on how to support their children in a bilingual household.

“It is important for the Korean in-laws and Korean spouses to be supportive of their children becoming bilingual,” said an official from the Gender Ministry.

“Learning their parent’s mother tongue can raise the children’s self-esteem and help with identity formation.”

According to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, 76.1 percent of children whose foreign-born parents were from North America and Europe were learning their parent’s native language on top of Korean, while only 10.4 percent of those whose parents were from Cambodia and Vietnam were doing the same in 2012.

One of the reasons behind the statistics has to do with the lack of support from the children’s Korean parents and relatives. Many foreign-born mothers are encouraged by their Koreans spouses or in-laws to only speak in Korean with their children, according to NGOs.

“Many Korean in-laws believe that when a child is exposed to two languages at a young age, he or she would end up not being fluent in either of those languages,” said a worker from Multicultural Children’s Library Modoo in Seoul.

“But having a bilingual environment only betters a child’s linguistic development and cultural understanding.”

The ministry is establishing 20 more pre-school classes for multicultural children from the current 80 nationwide.

It is also increasing the number of Rainbow Schools, a special educational institution for young foreign-born children, to 17 from the current 12 across the nation.

There were about 204,000 multicultural children in Korea as of last year.

By Claire Lee (