Knowing two or more languages can provide lots of benefits to both the child and their future, such as improved cognitive abilities, enhanced cultural awareness, and better job prospects. But how do we as parents go about raising a bilingual child? We’ll go through some helpful tips to raise a bilingual child successfully.
There are several approaches to raising a child bilingually, and the best approach may depend on your family’s language goals, cultural background, and individual circumstances. Here are some of the most common approaches to raising bilingual children:
One parent, one language (OPOL)
With this popular method, parents speak each a different language to the child. For example, one parent speaks Spanish, while the other speaks English. The idea is that the child will learn both languages from an early age and become bilingual. It’s great for parents who have different first languages and they can each speak their own language to the child.
Minority language at home (ML@H)
This common approach involves speaking the minority language (i.e., the language that is not widely spoken in the community) at home, while the majority language is spoken outside the home. For example, a family might speak Spanish at home and in family conversation but lives in an English-speaking community and speak English outside the house may use this approach to help their child become bilingual.
Time and place (T&P)
This approach involves using one language in specific times and places. For example, a family may use English at school and work, but use Spanish at home and during family gatherings.
If you have a bilingual household that is fluent in the languages and you can stick to the methods above, it is usually recommended to follow one of them for best results. With those approaches there is a clear language separation between the two languages and allowing the child to differentiate between them while also being a constant around them.
This approach involves speaking both languages in the same sentence or conversation. For example, a family may use “code-switching” between languages and speak in “Spanglish” (a mix of Spanish and English). While this method still works, it can be easier if the same language is spoken in a specific context rather than always being mixed between them.
This approach involves immersing the child in a language-rich environment, such as enrolling them in a bilingual school or a language immersion program. There they would also talk with other children making it more fun. Language exposure for a significant portion of the day can help them become bilingual more quickly.
With this approach, you focus on your kid learning the native language first, and then learning different languages later. For example, a child may learn Spanish at home as their first language and then learn English when they start school.
It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to teach your kid different languages, and what works best for one family may not work for another. You should choose an approach that fits your language goals, cultural values, and individual circumstances. Consistency and persistence are key to success, regardless of the approach used.
Tips for raising bilingual children
Learning languages is easier when you’re younger, so the earlier you start teaching your child a second language, the better. Research shows that children who learn another language at a young age are more likely to be fluent in both languages, as their brains are still developing language acquisition skills. You can start exposing your child to a second language as early as infancy, you could read books, play games or sing songs in the language.
Create a language-rich environment
To encourage bilingualism, create a language-rich environment at home. Use the second language regularly with your child, and make it a part of your daily routine. For example, you can speak to your child in the other language during meals, while playing, or while doing activities together. You can also play music or watch TV shows in the second language.
Choose an approach
Above we talked about the most common approaches used. It’s best to choose what you prefer, what works for you, and what you can stick with. You can combine some but it is best to decide and start early and keep a separation of the languages to make it easier for language learners to understand the difference.
Encourage language immersion
No matter what approach you choose, a great way to help your child’ bilingual language development is through language immersion. You can enroll your child in a language immersion program, where they are taught in the target language for a portion of the day. You can also consider hiring a bilingual nanny or sending your child to a bilingual daycare. Visiting family or friends that speak the language or even visiting a country or region where the language is used can be highly beneficial.
Make language learning fun
Children learn best when they are having fun, so try to make their language development enjoyable and exciting. When raising bilingual children, we recommend you use games, songs, shows, and books to help them learn the second language. Language learning can also be interesting when you take them to cultural events, such as festivals or museums, to help them develop an appreciation for the language and culture.
Be patient and consistent
Learning a second language takes time, so be patient with your child. Consistency is key, so make sure to use the second language regularly with your child. As you’re raising a bilingual child, encourage your child to practice the language outside the home, such as with friends who speak the language or through language exchange programs.
Emphasize the benefits of being bilingual
Emphasize the practical benefits of being bilingual and knowing more than one language to your child. Let them know that speaking two languages fluently can open up many opportunities in the future, such as better job prospects and the ability to communicate with people from different cultures, or maybe also some family members that mainly speak one language.
When you want to raise bilingual children, you need to understand that it requires dedication, consistency, and patience. By creating a language-rich environment, using effective teaching methods, and talk about the many benefits of being bilingual, you can help your child develop proficiency in two languages and gain a valuable skill for the future.
If you would like kids books for bilingual learners, you can take a look at bilingual French children’s books.