Top Ten Tips for Raising Bilingual Children

by multilingualmania on July 8, 2010

in Bilingual Language Development, bilingual parenting, Bilingualism

1. Make a family decision
Before a family begins the transition to bilingualism, it is important to ensure that everyone is on board. A parent who is uncomfortable with or hostile to the idea of speaking more than one language at home runs the risk of creating a tense and stressful learning environment. This can also lead a child to associate his or her second language with conflict, which can discourage long-term language acquisition. If you think bilingualism is right for your brood, start the process with a family meeting to share goals, questions, and concerns and then go from there.

2. Develop a strategy and be consistent
Many families hoping to go bilingual make the mistake of sampling different strategies without ever settling on one. Studies show that language learners (especially children) thrive on consistency. The most successful bilingual families design a plan that works for them and commit to it. Whether it be “One Parent, One Language”, “Minority Language at Home”, or one of many other language acquisition methods, choose a program that meets your family’s needs and be consistent.

3. Focus on quality and quantity
While quality often trumps quantity, when it comes to your child’s language development, it is important to emphasize both. Research indicates that new learners need to be exposed to their second language at least 30% of the time. If you are concerned that you might not have enough time to devote to cultivating your child’s language skills, look into enrolling him or her in supplementary classes or a bilingual after school program to help maintain that minimum 30%.

4. Pat your child on the back
It may be tempting to hang on your child’s every mistake in order to prevent him or her from forming bad habits, yet nitpicking can slow down your child’s process and discourage him or her from practicing at home. Limit the amount of time you spend correcting your child and focus instead on praising his or her successes. Positive reinforcement builds confidence and creates a safe environment for your child to experiment and take language risks.

5. Read, watch, listen, and play
Although it is an essential element of any language acquisition program, conversation is only one of many bilingual building blocks. Make sure to expose your child to your target language using a medley of mediums like books, movies, music, and games. Not only does variety keep the learning process fresh and fun, it also helps children to look at bilingualism as a lifestyle, not just extracurricular schoolwork.

6. Develop a buddy system
Networking with other bilingual families and participating in joint outings and activities will allow your child to enjoy the relationship building advantages of multilingualism. Some families with children of similar ages choose to pair them up as “bilingual buddies.” This is especially effective for children who are more social than scholarly; bilingual play dates are the perfect way to disguise learning as fun!

7. Make practical language connections
Demonstrating the practical uses of a second language will teach your child to value bilingualism and encourage him or her to maintain the language in years to come. If you live in an ethnically diverse area, you can easily turn simple activities like going grocery shopping or getting a haircut into a learning opportunity by choosing locations where your target language is spoken. Or, if you are unable to find local organizations or businesses who speak your language, there are plenty of practical activities you can try at home like cooking, fixing the family car, or training a pet.

8. Take bilingual vacations
Travel is one of the best ways to energize your child’s language learning experience. Plan your family vacations to countries where your target language is spoken or, if time or money are an issue, look for spots in your own region with large foreign language speaking populations. When you make learning an adventure, your child is more likely to see language acquisition as a hobby instead of a chore.

9. Encourage full immersion
Full immersion language schools, summer camps, and study abroad programs are excellent ways to accelerate and solidify your child’s language acquisition. Studies show that committing to a full immersion experience is an invaluable investment in sustainable bilingualism and biliteracy. Full immersion is especially beneficial to young children because of their natural aptitude for absorbing languages. In fact, for language learners under the age of 10, full immersion often leads to native proficiency.

10. Be careful not to overdo it
It is important to remember that language acquisition is a marathon, not a sprint! The key to successfully raising bilingual children is walking that fine line between consistency and excess. Demonstrating an attitude of patience and humor to your children will allow them to approach the process in the same way, making for a fun, exciting, and memorable family learning experience.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne Egros July 9, 2010 at 9:02 am

Great Tips,
Our son, 8 is truly bilingual English-French. He went to three international schools:
one in Tokyo, one in Atlanta and current one in Brussels.
Our policy; French at home and English at school.
In Atlanta the international school was one day English and one day French but we noticed it was confusing for him because of the way letters sound in French and in English such a G ang J, I an E etc.

Becky November 10, 2011 at 8:48 pm

We are raising our 4 kids to be bilingual Spanish-English, with a bit of Mandarin. Great tips- love the bit about taking bilingual vacations. We have taken our kids to a summer day camp in Mexico the past couple of summers and it has helped *tremendously* with their spoken Spanish! We just found a similar camp in China we will do when they are older:).

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