Hoping to raise a bilingual child? It’s an admirable goal with many proven benefits! However, as you may already know, it isn’t exactly easy. Creating a bilingual home takes significant effort, consistency, and commitment — especially if you aren’t bilingual yourself.
So, where do you start? How do you successfully give your child the best chance at speaking two languages fluently? In this blog post, we’re going to show you!
Specifically, we’ll look at:
Let’s get started!
If you’ve ever traveled to a foreign country where you don’t speak the local language, we’re sure you already have some ideas about the benefits of raising a bilingual child!
Yet, your child being able to speak a foreign language with native speakers in a foreign country isn’t the only benefit. According to scientific research on bilingualism, the benefits of being bilingual also include:
Want your child to experience all of the benefits of bilingualism that we just discussed in the previous section? Here are 5 tips and strategies to help you raise a bilingual child.
Did you know there is a “magic window” to teach your kids languages? Well, according to research on language development, your child has the best chance at learning a language between the ages of 0-8. This critical period is when their brain is most equipped to soak up and retain the sounds, grammar, and overall structure of the language.
Is it possible for your child to learn a second language after the age of 8? Of course! However, it will likely be more challenging. The earlier you start, the more likely you’ll be to raise a bilingual baby!
To work toward that goal, you can do things like expose your child to music and speak baby talk in the second language. As they grow, you can also try making short conversations, introducing them to cultural activities, and reading stories in the target language.
There are many tested strategies for raising bilingual children. For example, there is the one-parent one-language approach in which one parent speaks to the child in one language and the other parent speaks to the child in another language.
Since you’d create a truly bilingual home for your child, the one-parent one-language approach tends to deliver the most consistent results. However, it requires significant effort. The strategy may also be more difficult if both parents are not fluent in both languages.
The strategy you choose to teach your kids a second language is less important than how consistently you use it. If you introduce two languages to your kids, they need to know when they’re expected to speak each one.
Will your child learn how to speak a second language just by listening to music or watching TV in the target language? Probably not!
The quality of language exposure is a critical factor in determining whether your kids truly become bilingual. Conversation and other interactive teaching methods like reading together are the best choices. Meanwhile, low-quality television shows are not particularly helpful for introducing a second language to your kids.
Quantity of exposure to the language is also important to build vocabulary and grammatical development. There is no secret, the more you speak the language to your child, the larger the vocabulary size.
While you can teach your kids a second language alone, it’s easier with help. Ask your family to interact with your children in the language you are trying to teach. You can also ask your neighbors to help, particularly if you agree to do the same with their children.
Asking for help promotes variety in the second language. Your kids will have opportunities to engage with more people, thus introducing the language to your kids in different ways. Not only does this build second language vocabulary, but it also helps them understand how the language works on a fundamental level.
If you don’t know anyone who speaks the language, consider looking for a nanny or tutor who can. You may also want to look into enrolling your child in a school or program that offers bilingual education.
Working with a bilingual education program from an early age helps to truly immerse your kids in the second language.
Programs like Bilingual Bebe offer online bilingual school and after-school programs with small class sizes and native teachers. During the classes, children have the opportunity to not only learn how to speak the second language but also things like:
Parents can increase the quantity of quality language exposure their child receives every day as early as 3 years old by choosing these programs.
Once you get started, we’re sure you’ll have many additional questions about how to raise a bilingual child. Here are a few of the most common questions parents have.
Yes. Raising a bilingual child in a monolingual household is definitely possible! You’ll need to put in more effort to expose your child to the second language, but you can do things like enrolling your child in bilingual education programs to overcome this obstacle.
Not at all! As we mentioned earlier, early exposure (before the age of 8) to the second language is best according to research on language acquisition and development. However, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost if you have older children.
Anyone at any age can learn how to speak a different language. Older children learning languages will just require more time, effort, consistency, and exposure to the new language.
Many parents used to worry that bilingual kids experienced disadvantages due to needing to think in two languages. However, science has proven time and time again that this is not true.
Bilingual children are incredibly sensitive and perceptive of the differences between languages. Rarely are they confused or put at a disadvantage for speaking more than one language. In fact, as we showed earlier, the ability to speak two languages is actually an advantage!
Sometimes, people who speak multiple languages start code-switching. Not sure what that is? Basically, it’s when you mix languages in a single conversation or sentence. For example, someone who speaks English and French may start a sentence in French but occasionally use English words.
If you only speak one language, you may think it sounds odd or wrong when your child does this. However, it’s a completely normal part of the bilingual journey. People all over the world who learn to speak multiple languages from an early age do it.
Raising a bilingual child will take some work, but it’s definitely worth the effort! As we’ve shared in this blog post, children who can speak more than one language tend to have cognitive and social advantages over monolingual children.
If you want to help your child become bilingual, follow the 5 tips we’ve shared: