A guest blog by Lingoo, the Language Homestay Club
It can be tough to make sure your bilingual child gets the right balance of exposure to the languages they are learning. But any bumps in the road will far outweigh the benefits of your child being fluent in more than one language. You just need a little perseverance and a good sense of humour along the way. Here are 10 tips for raising bilingual kids.
Children are never too young to be learning another language
When raising bilingual kids it’s important to get proactive from the start. So introduce a new language to your children from birth or as soon as possible. The opportune learning period for bilingual brains is from the time they are born to around the age of 6.
Also, if your child starts school in a majority language, it will become more difficult to rebalance the minority language. On the other hand, also never think it is too late to phase in language learning to your child’s development.
2. Teach your child your native language, even if it is a minority
It doesn’t matter how useful you feel it is to them right now, you don’t know what opportunities will be presented to them in the future. And there’s one thing for sure, being bilingual opens up doors that would otherwise be closed. Also, when you are already fluent in more than one language, learning another is far easier than it is for monolinguals. Having a common language will also help develop relationships with extended family members.
3. Have conversations with your child before they can speak
Don’t underestimate the importance of directly speaking to your child in the target languages before they can speak. Kids can easily fool you into thinking they aren’t listening but this is rarely the case. If you are practising ‘one person, one language’ and one parent is more absent than the other, due to work circumstances for example, make some videos of you speaking and reading. Your other half can then play them to your child during the days you aren’t around as much.
4. Do teach your child your second language
It’s completely natural for a parent to default to speaking to their child in their mother tongue. So this is going to require some significant effort on your part if you are teaching your kid your second language. And you may think your second language has to be perfect for you to speak to your child in it, but it doesn’t, they will still hugely benefit from it.
If you are going to have a majority language in your home and the wider community, it’s important to not let the minority language fall into a passive role. This can happen surprisingly quickly if you don’t prioritise it, so even if it doesn’t come naturally for you, focus on the long-term benefits.
5. Develop a strategic and consistent approach
Routines work for kids. If you are practising ‘minority at home, majority outside’. Stick to that and ensure they receive daily input from both. Research says you should aim for at least 25 hours per week input from a minority language. And be sure to actively shape your child’s language learning, don’t leave things to chance and expect them to just pick it up
On top of sufficient exposure, you also need to foster circumstances in which your child feels the organic need to use both languages. If one or the other is lacking, their fluency in either language will stall. And you could find yourself in a situation whereby although your child understands a minority language, they chose to only communicate in the majority language.
6. Set realistic goals and don’t compare them to other kids
It is easier said than done, but don’t measure your kid’s abilities against to other kids’, bilingual or otherwise. Little people learn at different rates and so long as they are learning more words and their pronunciation is gradually improving, they are progressing.
You also need to decide early on whether you are just aiming for oral fluency in one language or if reading and writing in both languages is important too. And know that as they get older you will have to continue to play a diligent and active role in any minority language, otherwise their fluency will become stunted.
7. Provide an opportunity for immersive peer learning
Once your child starts speaking, their development will soar from spending time with kids their own age who speak the same language, native or as a second language. There are various ways you can do this but an exciting method is to take a family language immersion trip to a country where the language is native. This way you can match yours and your child’s interests with the family you stay with and lead by example in making new friends from different cultures.
8. Take advantage of media and technology resources
Of course, too much screen time is no good. But we live in the 21st century and raising a bilingual child without the help of videos and online games would be like doing it with one hand tied behind your back. There are so many good quality educational resources available to assist your little ones in gaining solid exposure to their target languages.
This is particularly important if you are not living in the country where one of your languages is not widely spoken. And never underestimate the power of reading to your child in the languages they are learning too. Even if they don’t fully understand them yet, it is important for them to see the words, not just hear them.
9. Do correct your child when they make mistakes
Don’t be afraid of gently correcting your child when they pronounce something wrong or mix words up from different languages. It’s how we learn. So you aren’t doing them any favours in protecting them from being wrong. However, never interrupt the flow of conversation or their sentence. Getting your words out can be tricky enough as a bilingual child. Better to make a note and explain the correction to them afterwards.
10. Keep a journal of your bilingual child’s progress
Record what’s working and not working so well for your child. Take note of milestones and achievements and when they reached goals. This will enable you to tailor your child’s language learning experience. Also if you are co-parenting or your child has another carer, be sure to have regular meetings with them to discuss strategies, goals and progress.
11. Make language learning fun
And lastly, maybe the most important tip for raising bilingual kids. Make the language learning process enjoyable. If your kid feels like it is a chore they will just dig their heels in and take the easy route when it comes to their communications. It’s certainly not a walk in the park, but fostering a serious yet playful teaching style is the best way to go.
And equally importantly, there will be times when your little person is finding learning two languages tough going. Recognise this and give them a break. If they feel stressed out when speaking it will only delay their progress in the long run.
Lingoo recommends KLOO games as a fun way to teach your child a French, Spanish or Italian. Visit Lingoo for the opportunity to win KLOO games for free.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Article by Sarah McAlister, content editor at Lingoo. The world’s biggest language exchange and homestay club. Lingoo gives language learners of all ages the power to decide how they would like to learn a language. And helps teachers and hosts deliver authentic language learning experiences.