Raising children is like a full-time job, maybe even harder, let alone raising bilingual children.
You've to constantly monitor their health, nutrition, behavior, learning, happiness, and a whole lot of other factors to know if they are doing alright. Raising a bilingual child brings an even greater challenge. Although considered a hassle and something unnecessary, there are a lot of advantages to raising your children to be bilingual. This is where we aim to help you ease the language development process of your child by sharing what we have learned!
Why raise your children to be bilingual?
The world is getting more interconnected by the day. Whether you have a monolingual household or a bilingual or multilingual one, bilingual children have a clear social, intellectual, and economic advantage in the long run.
This article is meant for both bilingual and monolingual households. The suggestions here can help you expose your child to a second language, be it a minority language or a heritage language in a different part of the world. Let's dive right in!
Effective learning is a result of Quantity + Quality
The quantity of input toward teaching your child a new language directly influences their understanding of vocabulary and grammar. The more words and phrases they hear both actively and passively, can clarify what something means with contextual cues to support their understanding.
Another critical input in raising bilingual children is the quality of the input. Watching a tv show in a foreign language is likely to have a lower impact on their learning than reading to them would. We built Livolingo, for this very reason. To enrich the quality of input and have children experience multiple languages in a tactile and visual manner. Choose quality active learning practices.
Your family and friends are the best peers
If we think about language at a very basic level, we speak a certain language to effectively express ourselves to another person or a group of people. The support of peers who speak the same language as the one that you want your child to learn will go a long way in your child's bilingual language development.
Exposure to friends, grandparents, and other relatives who speak different languages greatly benefits overall language development.
Do what works for your family
There is no life hack or cheat sheet regarding raising a bilingual child. There are many different approaches that you can take toward this, based on your family dynamic and abilities.
The most popular approach we have also applied firsthand is the "one-person one language" approach. Wherein one parent communicates in the minority language, and the other speaks a majority language. Another one is to speak one language, often a minority language at home, and the child learns the majority language in school. In this case, you'd teach the minority language first and follow a school curriculum for the majority language.
Another popular method is to set aside days or hours within a day where you explicitly communicate in one language. Often fixing errors in a supportive manner, wherever necessary.
Education is the most formal way to teach your child more than one language. Although there's not much you can do within the early years, you can have bilingual babysitters or nannies for your child who speak another language. This would be possible in and around big cities where you may find people from different cultural backgrounds and languages.
Once your child is at school, you can explore two-way immersion programs where children from two different native language backgrounds share the same classroom. Here the classes are taught in both languages, increasing exposure while constantly going back and forth between your child's dominant language and the other language you want them to learn.
Another is to have your child learn a second language in school. I am from Canada, and one of the languages spoken there is French, which is also a mandatory part of the middle school and high school curriculum.
Suppose you are in an area or country where such programs aren't available. In that case, you can seek support from after-school or weekend language lessons, which can approach language acquisition more formal and structured manner. To be fluent, your child needs to learn the formal rules of the language and speak the language consistently. We don't think much of it because, in English-spoken countries, the English language is a part of the curriculum. To be fluent, formal education is vital.
Let the learner lead the way
Children are like water, and they follow the path of least resistance. More often than not, they would gravitate to what interests them and seems attractive. Use cues and material that a child would naturally be interested in, and then use that to educate them. Be it books, toys or media, try to build learning experiences around what they like.
Think of Dora the Explorer and how she would first speak Spanish and then its English meaning. Over time, this exposure brings in new words regularly and fosters a multilingual environment. This might seem very trivial and nonconsequential, but this compounds if you consider the quality and quantity of exposure from the first point.
Stay on top of things!
From the early stages to the point where your child starts school or formal education in a second language, make sure you educate yourself about bilingualism. There are a lot of great things and myths that surround the topic of raising bilingual kids. Make sure you know what you do your research on these topics before taking a call. As for the general development of bilingual children, they achieve essential milestones in learning at the same rate as monolingual children. Research also shows that bilingualism leads to higher and stronger neural pathways in children, which is great news for overall development.
Bilingual parenting seems tricky, and it is. Parenting by itself is challenging, and this may add to the stress of raising your children. However, it's all surmountable through quality education in a substantial quantity. Language development isn't an entirely linear, and providing your child with the right learning environment will undoubtedly go a long way, ultimately leading to fluency. Work with family, friends, and professional learning support to aid this language development. Follow the path of least resistance within the early years, and lastly, this is a journey, have fun on it and let your child be a child!