Raising bilingual children – tips & challenges

Raising bilingual children

*This is a guest post 

Are you raising children in a multicultural family? Would you love to raise your children bilingually but don’t know where to start? Raising bilingual children can be somewhat controversial. You will likely experience some criticism along the way or well meaning concern. This can come from family, friends and complete strangers.

Thoughts to hold on to:

Exposure:

The key to your children learning a language is how much exposure they have to it. Think about your family situation.

Which is the language that your children are exposed to the least?

Before you embark on raising children with a second language, it helps to think what level of proficiency you want them to have?

This is important as it will give you an idea how much exposure your child needs to help achieve your language goals.

If you want to be scientific, you can work out how much of the week your child hears the minority language. There are some theories to say that you need 30% exposure of a language to become bilingual.

Choose a method

The most popular methods for bilingual learning are:

  • One Parent One Language (OPOL). Each parent only speaks to their children in their own language.
  • Minority Language at Home. If both parents speak each other’s languages fluently you can speak one language outside the home and the minority language at home.

Whichever method you choose, stick to it. Consistency is key. Like most things in parenting, children like routine, boundaries and knowing what’s coming next.

We use the OPOL method and it works well. On the odd occasion that I answer my children in Italian they tell me off! They have little rules established now in their heads that Mamma speaks English and Daddy Italian.

Get help!

Though children learn best from a person, all of the below can bolster that second language exposure.

  • Use books or audio books in the desired language – All can be bought from Amazon.
  • One Third Stories create beautiful books that begin in one language and end in another.
  • Bilingual toys – Chicco are great for toys in Italian, English, French & German.
  • Playdates with children who speak your minority language.
  • Find a children’s language class.
  • Write a word of the day and leave it where your child can find it. Each day you can talk to them about that word and how they can use it.
  • Flashsticks Post-It notes. These come in a variety of languages and have a different word, pronunciation prompt and picture.
  • Disney DVDs come in a variety of language options.

Overcoming challenges:

When your little ones are babies, things will be more straightforward. They don’t ask you why they should bother to learn a language. They just do it.

As your children become a bit bigger or if you start a bit later there will be questions. Children don’t like to be different from their peers. They don’t understand the benefits of having a second language when they’re small.

When you encounter resistance think about what would make your child want to speak that language? What is the need in their eyes?

Your child will want to play with another child. They will want to speak to their grandparent.  If he/she has to communicate in the second language to do so, that reason makes sense to him/her.

Think about why is it important to you that they learn your language. Our identity, our values, nostalgia, customs, all these things make up who we are and learning our language is just one way we feel we can impart these things to our children.

Your child doesn’t know this. So think outside of the language. What does your native country/town look like? What food do you love that reminds you of home? What songs did you sing when little? Are there any festivals that you can tell them about or show them pictures of? Show them a map of where you live and where you are from. Create interest in the place.

Finally!

Don’t give up! Realise that success comes in many little steps and takes time.

Enjoy it, try and avoid stressing about their progress and don’t compare your family with others.

You are giving your children a gift which not only develops language skills, empathy with other cultures and greater understanding of the world but also positively develops their brains in ways we are only just starting to understand. Some people even advocate your children learning two additional languages!

Author Bio: Kristie Prada is the creator of Mammaprada blog. She is English, married to an Italian and Mamma of two bambini. Kristie writes about her favourite things from both their cultures and raising bilingual children. If you’re interested in a mix of languages, little ones and limoncello head over to her blog Mammaprada. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Picture credit: Designed by Freepik

3 comments

  1. When I was a child minder I cared for a child whose parents were attempting to make her bilingual, her mum was from the Check republic and her grandparents could not speak English, the idea was that she would be able to speak to them on the phone, they succeeded by her mum only speaking to her in Ckek and her father only in English

    • Thank you Karen, this is the one parent, one language method that we use. We find it creates the least confusion for our children. But obviously every family is different. I’m pleased you’ve experienced a success story! X

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