Bilingualism brings countless benefits. Research conducted over time has shown that people who are bilingual have the potential to switch between tasks easily, can learn a third language more easily and have increased problem solving capabilities. For working adults, being bilingual can help open more job opportunities.
Most importantly, research suggests that being bilingual may even help the elderly delay dementia, including Alzheimer’s. But the fact of the matter is, that raising kids to speak a second language does not come easy, even if both the parents bring a heritage language into the family home.
In order to strike a balance between both the dominated and the minority language, it’s necessary for parents raising bilingual kids to actively help them learn the second language. No matter the circumstances, here are a few tips that will definitely help you in raising a bilingual child:
If you’re serious about raising a bilingual child, it’s necessary for you to be proactive from the start. This will go a long way in raising your chances of nurturing a fair balance in your child’s bilingual skills. Starting from birth to age 6 or 7 is the most crucial time in your child’s life – and for good reason, this is the time when young brains are most primed for language acquisition.
Moreover, if your child goes to a school where the majority language is spoken, there's a good chance that his brain will find it harder to strike a balance between the two languages after this period.Simply put, the effort you put into helping your child learn the minority language at a young age will help you foster the balance you’re interested in – and this balance can then easily be maintained all through his childhood and you won’t have to play ‘catch up’ with the minority language in the long run.
Experts have long claimed that a baby starts learning languages right from the mother’s womb. Research studies conducted in this regard have shown that babies start recognizing their mothers’ speech patterns during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy – and they have the ability to demonstrate the same patterns after birth.
What if my child has passed the infant stage?
There’s no need for you to worry if your child has passed the infant stage. Children can pick up languages rather quickly, though early exposure before the age of 5 can help them develop native-like intonation and pronunciation.
It’s necessary for you to be proactive in terms of exposing your child to people and situations where he can use the minority language. If possible, try to find daycare centers or school that support early language education. In case you don’t have any native speakers at home or in your family, it’s highly recommended for you to find a babysitter or tutor who speaks the minority language you want your child to learn.
If you employ a sitter who speaks the minority language with your child while playing and doing routine tasks, you can rest-assured your little one will have better pronunciation and be able to expand his vocabulary more easily. If you have a household with native speakers of the minority language, it’s best for you to take up the ‘one-parent-one-language’ approach. In this method, one parent speaks to the kids in their first language, while the other uses the second language with the kids.
According to experts, children need to be exposed to a language at least 30% of their waking time to be able to really learn it. For this reason, find a daycare center that supports early language education or hire a sitter who speaks the minority language.
What should I expect?
The results you will be able to acquire with these methods range from being able to recognize the minority language when it’s spoken, to being able to converse in it. The more you expose your child to the language, the better he will be able to converse in it.
An agreement within the familyis one of the most crucial ingredients when it comes to raising a bilingual child. However, people still wonder what they should do in case their partner doesn’t want their child to learn a language that he doesn’t understand. This is basically a sign of insecurity – your partner may have fears of being excluded as you and your child speak in ‘the secret language’.
In such a situation, it’s highly recommended for you to discuss things in detail and make compromises where necessary. Coming to an agreement that is acceptable to both parents in this regard can prove to be extremely beneficial for the child who is being raised to be bilingual. Once the two of you come to an agreement, it is necessary for you to come up with a plan.
Agree on who is going to speak what language with your child and then do whatever it takes to stick to the plan. To help your child learn both the languages, make sure that one parent speaks to him in the ‘foreign’ language at all times. If possible, the whole family can speak in the minority language too, it’ll make it easier for your little one to learn it.
Enthusiasm is nice, but you need to be realistic too
Once people start raising a bilingual child, most of them consider adding more languages to the mix. If truth be told, although in most cases the number of languages spoken within the household is enough for the child to learn, but research shows that children can learn up to four languages at a time. However, it’s necessary for you to stay realistic and refrain from over-burdening your child – it won’t be worth it.
Raising a bilingual child is a priority that goes hand in hand with being proactive. You need to bear in mind the fact that if teaching your child the minority language isn’t one of your family’s top priorities, there’s a good chance that the majority language will become dominant. At the same time, the minority language is just going to be relegated to a fairly passive role.
The worst part is that this can happen rather quickly as your child becomes immersed in the majority language as he becomes part of a community that speaks it. For this reason, it’s highly recommended for you to make teaching your child the minority language a priority right from the start. When raising a bilingual child, you should also refrain from letting circumstances determine the outcome.
It’s necessary for you to take every step possible to shape the situation on a regular basis so your child can receive ample exposure to the minority language – this will go a long way in counterbalancing the heavy exposure to the dominant language. Although your child can pick up the minority language later when he’s older, but it’s just going to disregard your natural desire of interacting with your little one in the language you prefer.
Go all the way
If you want, you can even go all the way by speaking only the minority language at home. In most cases, one parent ends up speaking in the minority language, whereas the other continues to speak to the child only in English. This back-and-forth banter is not going to confuse your child – don’t worry if this is what’s holding you back. If done properly, your child will address you in the minority language and his dad in the dominant language.
It’s of utmost importance for you to set clear goals for your child’s ability in the minority language. Do you just want him to achieve oral fluency, or do you want him to be able to read and write in the minority language at the level of a monolingual child too? No matter what your goals are, it is necessary for you to articulate them and put in the best of your efforts for the fulfillment of these goals.
While you’re at it, remember that although good reading and writing in the minority language are attainable goals, these will require a diligent commitment not just from you, but your child too. Raising a bilingual child doesn’t come easy and you need to have all the patience in the world as there will be times when doubts start sneaking in.
Like many other aspects of parenting, getting your child to speak a second language is going to be a long-term commitment that will be packed full of ups and downs. There’s no need for you to worry if your child doesn’t pick up the second language as quickly as his siblings or his peers. To stay positive, just focus on his achievements and think of how rapidly his little brain is developing.
Praise your child
As you focus on your child’s accomplishments, make sure that you praise him as much as possible for his efforts. As your child continues to learn your language, you will have nothing but pride and all that extra effort you put in is going to prove to be totally worth it!
In most cases, families have one parent who speaks the dominant language with their child and the other speaks the minority language. If this is how you want things to proceed, it’s extremely important for you to be consistent in terms of teaching your child the minority language. In case you don’t remain consistent, there’s a good chance that the dominant language will take over.
For instance, if the dominant language in your family is English, letting your child realize that the minority language-speaking parent can understand and will use English is just going to give him an excuse to slip into conversing with you in English.
As your child grows up, it’s necessary for you to remain strict with him in terms of the language you use to converse with your little one. There will be times when your child may want to talk to you in the dominant language, but as the ‘heritage speaker,’ make sure that you don’t respond to him unless he speaks in the minority language.
Don’t take things overboard
Consistency should never be taken overboard as it will only make speaking two languages a difficult chore for your little one. For instance, if your child is super excited and starts telling you about something in the dominant language, don’t discourage him by pushing the minority language. Make every effort possible to accommodate your child by speaking the dominant language when he truly needs it. However, once that is done, make sure that you switch back to the minority language right away.
At times, people want to dive into raising a bilingual child, particularly if this is something common in their community. As a parent struggling to raise a bilingual child, it’s necessary for you to recognize the signs of your child feeling overburdened by the entire process. Informed parents can potentially spot warning signs earlier and have the knowledge to do what needs to be done.
Children can become overwhelmed when problems such as hearing and speech difficulties exist, or when the child’s refusal to speak a certain language and one language taking over the other arise. For this reason, it’s highly recommended you acquire education about your baby’s language milestone – this will go a long way in appreciating your child’s progress and you’ll always have something to surprise you!
Being a bilingual parent deems it necessary for you to educate yourself on children and bilingualism. This will assist you in promoting the development of your child’s language proficiency like nothing else can. The best thing for you to do in this regard is turn to helpful online resources, books and reach out to other parents so as to expand your knowledge and ideas in this regard.
Get your hands on relevant materials
It’s highly recommended for you to have lots of movies, books, music and toys around your house in the minority language. Not only will this make the entire experience a whole lot more fun, their presence will be very useful too in terms of helping your child learn the heritage language.