In today’s world being bilingual has immense benefits. For many it is a matter of getting in at a quality employer. Many jobs today are requiring people to be bilingual. Anyone going into any public service job can tell you that being bilingual is extremely helpful. It is because of all the benefits to being bilingual, that many parents are trying to raise their children as bilingual individuals. For some of us, we ourselves were raised in bilingual homes. For others they have married someone bilingual, have a bilingual babysitter or relative, or they themselves have learned to be bilingual.
There are many things to consider when raising your children to be bilingual and while some experts say one thing and another says close to the opposite, many agree on most of the recommendations and tips. I know for my family, immersion has been the one tried and true method. I was raised speaking Spanglish, the hybrid Spanish and English language of many Spanish-American families. My spouse was raised similarly. The only difference is that I was raised with the dialect of northern Spain and he was raised with the dialect of Puerto Rico. For our daughter we had to go through similar struggles as every parent wanting to raise a bilingual child. Here are some very simple tips and ways to raise a bilingual child.
Before you start speaking to your child in your native tongue or the language you have been studying for twenty years, sit down and discuss why it is important to you to have a bilingual child. Not every couple agrees that this is something important. Like with any parenting decision it is best to sit down and make sure you have a family agreement before you begin teaching your child another language. Many couples run into a problem if only one parent knows the language, some significant others may get a little self conscious when they hear their spouse and child speaking what they think is a “secret language”. Also, if both you and your spouse are bilingual decide on which language you want your children to speak. That way a primary speaker can be established. Also, if you and your spouse speak the same parent language make sure to establish which dialect you want your child to learn. That way you are not teaching the Mandarin you grew up in when your Cantonese in laws would prefer their language being taught.
When you are teaching your child, have both realistic and practical goals. Not all children will learn at a rapid pace or the pace you want them to. Make sure that there is a primary speaker for the child. That way they know that this person is speaking to them in another language as opposed to other people. Make sure that it becomes a common language spoken between the primary speaker and the child. While it is possible to teach four languages at once, it is best to stick with only the languages spoken in the home. For example, in my home we speak both English and Spanish to my daughter. Since she has been in a bilingual home since birth she is at the point where she no longer needs me to act as her primary speaker and she can talk to anyone in both languages.
Something that is absolutely beneficial is immersion. From personal experience I know that immersion teaches the faster than teaching one word at a time. If you have a slower learner one word at a time might work best. With immersion the best way to go about it is to either act out commands or also say the words in English. In my home, I used to mix English and Spanish together until my daughter fully understood the Spanish command, now she can go back and forth between the languages. Books, videos, place mats, toys, games, and music in the language you are teaching are also very beneficial. They bring full on immersion into the language. Another handy tip from Parents.com is to try and create the most casual environment. If you live in an area that predominantly speaks the language you are trying to teach, expose your child. They can pick up on body language and context clues when they see native speakers fluently using the language. In addition teach the culture. Show them holidays, festivals and food of the country the language comes from.
I would like to recap some of the tips I threw out. Before I recap though I would like to add two more be patient and start early. The best advice I can say is to make sure to start teaching another language by age two or three. You can start early but sometimes it tends to confuse the child who is trying to learn a first language. Of course though, be patient for many reasons. The most important reason though is you want your child to enjoy learning, being impatient with them will only discourage them.
1. Make sure you and your spouse agree on raising bilingual children.
2. Agree on the language and dialect you are teaching.
3. Establish a primary teacher of the language.
4. Set realistic and practical goals for your child.
5. Use immersion techniques in a casual environment. Sit back and let them enjoy the native speakers in your area.
6. Expose them to the language with videos, television, books, games, toys, and music.
7. Show them the culture.
8. Be patient, do not rush the child into not wanting to learn.
9. Start as early as possible, but make sure you do not confuse the child from learning their native tongue.
10. Lastly have fun!
For more information on raising bilingual children check out the sources I used: