We love to talk a lot about bilingualism and raising a bilingual child, maybe even a bit obsessively.
Often we look at scientifically proven methods to learn more than one language, and how you should use them in day-to-day life. One recurring theme in most of the posts on this site is enriching the quality and quantity of input in the target language, in this post we will learn about some pretty neat tricks to do just that. Here are 7 tricks to set your child up for success on their language development journey!
Let go of fear
When working with one parent one language with your child, it's likely that you get overtly conscious about who is speaking what, and if this is the proper pronunciation or sentence structure. It's natural to be cautious when raising a bilingual child, but let the words flow here. In some cases, parents might be learning the same language as their child while trying to teach them. Don't be afraid of being a little wrong or off on pronunciation. These can be fixed with time. You can even use books to read things out whenever in doubt.
Stock up on books
This doesn't come as a surprise. Books still remain the most tactile and real way to learn not one but multiple languages. In order to help your child learn different languages, you should start building a library of their own. Nothing too extravagant, a small reading nook, with their favorite titles and some language learning books as well. Look for books like A-Z Creatures that have the majority language (English) being used alongside the target language that you want them to adopt.
Read and read aloud
With a stocked-up library, you should try to make time for reading, ideally every single day. Reading aloud with your child is great for spending quality time with your child, and helps language learning as well. Children develop up to 50% of their brains by the age of 3 and learn language through sounds. They aren't memorizing the letters or the words but rather how words sound. Reading with exaggerated pronunciation can help them with language acquisition, primarily boosting their vocabulary.
Listening to and singing songs
It's natural to get very academic with learning, especially when as humans we primarily attribute knowledge to books. Bilingual children, however, are still children first, often following the path of least resistance. To make this bilingual language development easier, and free of hurdles, you should seek songs in the target language. If you are pushing them to learn a native or minority language, it can be extremely enriching to listen to and sing songs with them. Making them an active part of this singing is crucial.
Cook with your child
When cooking, try to involve your child in the process of making food. You can name different ingredients in both the majority and minority languages. This can be extremely beneficial when trying to teach your child a heritage language. When you raise a bilingual child with foods and other cultural inclusions associated with a language, they grow more sensitive to that language. This isn't the most obvious kind of input enrichment, it's a softer approach. A child will only see the benefit of learning a language, if they see its practical usage, to express themselves. Activities like cooking, enforce this practical advantage for them.
Use screen time to benefit language development
Screen time is almost a nonnegotiable for growing children lately, especially in this so-called iPad generation. When your child does watch programs or shows on their iPad, expose them to bilingual material. There are hundreds of cartoon and animated shows in a second language that your child will love, it's a matter of seeking them.
Find a sitter or nanny who speaks the target language
Raising bilingual children also requires interaction, and you can't be the only person who speaks the other language. As we mentioned, learning a language depends on the practicality of that language in the child's mind. When you find caretakers who speak the language you want your child to learn, they see a greater advantage to knowing the words they hear. This commonality between a caregiver and a parent using the same language, makes them want to pronounce the same words.
Get your family to help you
Raising bilingual kids shouldn't be a solo endeavor. After all, we are trying to remove barriers to learning, and traditional teaching methods would be counterproductive to that. Seek help from your extended family, especially from family members. For a native language, their grandparents can help enrich their language input. If you are pushing them to learn a foreign language, a cousin might be able to help. Bilingual parenting doesn't mean they just need their parents to learn a language. Quality input can come from anywhere and anyone.
The next steps
Language learning is an exciting endeavor, supported by books, movies, and cartoons in the target language. The family also plays an important role in this language learning. The common denominator in all these tricks is that children learn language because they see the practicality in its usage.
As a next step, you could look into formal language development classes or two-way immersion pre-schools to support their language learning. Don't overwhelm your child with material or commit to formal learning prematurely. Let them take their time with learning. Focus on vocabulary building and basic phrase structures, the formal learning can wait till they begin school.
After seeing the tips for raising bilingual children, we can see that input enrichment doesn't have to mean only formal education or a plethora of books. Language development can happen in all stages and spheres of a child's life. You need to build a learning environment conducive to learning. This can be accomplished with a strategy like one parent one language, children's language learning books, or even shows and media in a second language. Involving your child in day-to-day activities like cooking can also prove to be beneficial, especially when they perceive the language to be practical. Other people like a sitter or family members can further the quality of input as well. It's important to not overwhelm your child and explore paths with the least resistance in their early years of learning.