Raising bilingual children comes with many benefits. The most important things in language development are exposure and need. If children are exposed to two or three languages in varied circumstances with different people from the moment they are born, and if they need those languages to communicate with the people around them, they will learn them. However, it isn’t always as easy as some may think. So what does it take to raise bilingual child?
Raising a bilingual child takes time in general. You need time to research and read up on bilingualism. You need time to talk to your child a LOT, time to read them books and play activities. Sure parents of monolingual children need to spend time with their children too, but when children are learning two languages at once, more time needs to be dedicated to making sure they get enough exposure from both languages. Once the idea of two languages has settled in, many people consider adding more. Usually the number of languages spoken within the household is enough for the child to absorb, but it's actually possible to successfully introduce as many as four languages simultaneously - provided you can offer enough exposure and need for each one!
When raising a bilingual child one of the most important things to have is a plan or a strategy that suits your family. There are a few different methods to choose from depending on your family situation. The two most popular are OPOL, (One Person, One Language) and Minority Language at Home, Community Language outside. First you need to decide who will speak which language and when, and think of a way you can make that work. Do you need to hire extra help to give more exposure to one of the languages, e.g. a nanny or language tutor? How fluent do you want your children to become? Do you want them to learn to read and write in both languages? Whatever your answers, you need to decide what your plan will be as a family, and make the goals you want to achieve.
Bilingual children need a variety of books in both languages, especially the minority language, the one the child lets the least exposure. Reading aloud to children every day has many benefits to a child’s language skills, the more words they hear, the more vocabulary they accumulate. A powerful way to teach your child a language is through music too. Most children can sing a song before starting to speak sentences, so singing songs and playing music can be a huge help in the language learning process. Books, music, movies, and toys in your minority language are the most obvious ways to boost your child's exposure, but there is also an amazing range of other household items such as place mats, tableware, posters, etc.
Once you have your plan, you need to look into how much exposure your children get to each language. There is a general recommendation that children should be exposed to a language at least thirty percent of their waking time to naturally become bilingual. This should however only be taken as a guidance – depending on the type of exposure, children might need more or less time to acquire a language.
Children pick up on how their parents feel and act, so as parents you need to be enthusiastic about learning the language. Teach them about where you are from, and about the culture, show them how proud you are of the language you speak, and make them feel proud of themselves. Kids naturally learn better while having fun. Any activity they have fun doing they will want to continue, so by playing their favourite games, reading their favourite books, and making learning a language a thing they enjoy, they will learn even without thinking or trying.
This is probably one of the most important things you need, yet also one of the most difficult. Being consistent makes the journey easier for your children. Keep to the family plan, choose your teaching method and be consistent when speaking to your children. Raising a bilingual child is not always easy, and many parents at some point think of giving up. There are many challenges to overcome, but by persevering you are giving your child one of the best gifts in the world, and no doubt they will be thankful for it in the future.
All children develop their language abilities differently and some can be slower than others, especially bilingual children who are learning two languages at once. It can be frustrating for some parents when comparing their children to their monolingual peers, however although some bilingual children may be a little behind when starting to talk, they will usually catch up well before they go to school so there is usually nothing to worry about.
Every parent of bilingual children needs support. Whether that be from your partner, your family or friends, or by joining playgroups or social groups. Having people who understand what you are trying to achieve can make all the difference.
Children don’t magically become bilingual overnight. Right from the start it takes a lot of effort and there are various challenges to overcome along the way, but you will never regret your decision to stick with it, you will be proud your children grow up to speak all the family languages!
- MISS GOVERNESS TEAM