The Essential Steps in Raising Multilingual Children

by multilingualmania on April 22, 2010

in bilingual parenting

As a parent, you may ask yourself about the possibility of attempting to raise your child multilingual. While many parents may not see the importance or significance of this, it can be a great benefit to the child in their future life. Children have the unique ability to absorb many things through their formative years. Even though it may seem complicated to have your child learn more than one language at a time, they are very capable of doing so and will impress you with how quickly they adapt.

Typically the rearing of a multilingual child is done by parents who speak more than one language themself. While this isn’t a necessity, it certainly gives a great starting off point for the child in question. Studies have shown that children need to be exposed to the secondary language at least 30% of their waking hours. This can be achieved in multiple ways such as, speaking to your children in the secondary language, arranging playgroups for them with children who speak the other language, and even immersing them in an alternate language school for a period of time.

Remember to always be realistic about your goals in teaching your child multiple languages. Children are very capable of absorbing up to four languages, but you must make sure that they gain enough exposure to each. Otherwise it will be a waste of time. Create a plan and stick with it, this will give your child the best possible chance of succeeding.

Most importantly, be patient with your children. Every child learns at their own pace, and teaching them multiple languages is no exception. They may occasionally mix up words and phrases, but it’s essential to never laugh and only offer positive encouragement. They will relate speaking and listening to having fun the more you make it fun for them. And while teaching your child to be multilingual may have its difficulties, its benefits far exceed whatever they are. By raising your child to be multilingual, you are giving them a gift they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

wenjonggal April 22, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Thanks for the post.
However I must take exception to this:
“Children are very capable of absorbing up to four languages, but you must make sure that they gain enough exposure to each. Otherwise it will be a waste of time.”

I fail to see how learning even ten or fifteen words in another language is a waste of time. Just the concept that a table is not “A TABLE” but that “A TABLE” are arbitrary words assigned by a particular group of people to that four legged object we put supper on, and that it can have different names equally valid, given by other particular groups of people, is a huge leap forward from a monolingual viewpoint.

Knowing even just how to say “hi” or “thankyou” opens doors to other cultures and friendships that can in turn lead to more language learning and cultural exchange in the future, whether it is a year later or twenty years later.

I refuse to think that my teaching my son mandarin is “a waste of time” because I don’t do 30% of the day in Chinese. He may not be fluent in mandarin (either receptive or expressive), but he can point out someone speaking Chinese, recognize written chinese vs French or italian, sing some songs, state his age and name and all these are valuable to me (and I am sure to him).

Just my Grandmother singing songs in Swedish to me, a few basic sentences, counting to 100 and visiting Sweden for a few weeks at 11 yrs old set the ground for a lifelong friendship with Swedish cousins, and also hiring a Swedish tutor when I was 36 yrs old.

I also take exception at the “never laugh”… we laugh a LOT, esp when we make funny mistakes in languages. I suppose you mean never laugh at, but even that can be fun, as the child also laughs at mommy, and we goof around making mistakes by design etc. Perhaps you mean “never ridicule” which isn’t really the same.

But thanks for the positive post on multilingualism besides those two rather smaller points.

multilingualmania April 22, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Thanks for your comments! I also believe that it’s not a waste of time to learn even two words in another language, and I also argue that less than 30 percent can be beneficial. Thanks for adding your two cents–I am trying to incorporate a variety of ideas on the blog, and encourage people to challenge each of our assumptions about something! -Melanie

Aline Nkunzumwami April 22, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Thanks for the post!
It is not easy to be consistent. It is often frustrating because our son is in first grade. And yes! We do laugh a lot. Now I understand better why our parents did not reinforce our mother tongue. I know that it will benefit him in the future but now it is frustrating. So thank you for the encouragement!

tetsu May 13, 2010 at 6:17 am

having had visionary parents who raised me in multiple languages when I was a kid really opened countless doors to me, in my private life and in my career. I can’t thank them enough.

I definitely plan to do the same when I have kids.

I want to write a book on what it was like growing up speaking 5 languages on a daily basis… will that be of interest to parents?

multilingualmania May 13, 2010 at 8:17 pm

I don’t know if parents would like it, but I am not a parent and I would read it!! Melanie

tetsu May 14, 2010 at 8:19 am

cool! I guess I’ll have to start writing it soon! 😉

thanx for the encouragement.

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