How to Raise a Bilingual Child
Today our 21st century society is beautifully multicultural – a result of globalisation, career opportunities and the joining of partners from different backgrounds around the world. This makes for a unique and joyful upbringing, with children from multi-cultural backgrounds benefiting from a variety of family traditions, cultural values and languages.
For parents raising a child in a bilingual home, it might be assumed that the child will naturally pick up both languages without confusion, but there are a few ways in which you can help your child along and encourage them to be fluent in more than one language…
Just like anything else, when it comes to learning new skills, the earlier you start the easier it is to pick up the basics and develop a skill that comes naturally. Teaching a child multiple languages at the developmental stage from birth to the age of six is vital, as this is the period that young brains are most primed for language acquisition. In addition, after this age your child is likely to start school, where one main language is spoken, making it more difficult from here on to balance the two languages.
By starting early you can get a head start on teaching your child that there are two words for everything, making introducing new words later on far easier.
Use Your Mother Tounge
Most families speak in one main language at home, which is usually dictated by which language everybody is most confident with. If you want your child to be fluent in both your mother tongue languages, you will need to make a conscious effort to speak both languages in turn around your young children and continue to do so into adulthood to avoid them losing the skill.
It’s likely you will always steer back to your main family language, but if that is not your own language, take the opportunity to speak in your mother tongue with your child when it is just you and them as often as possible. Practice makes perfect.
Keep it Positive
There may be a stage during the learning process when your child answers you in the ‘wrong’ language. This is usually an issue for the minority language parent, as most households will naturally select a ‘main’ language.
If and when this happens, it is important to avoid responding in a negative or emotional way to your child’s mistake. This might be especially likely when the child starts school – if the main language at home is spoken at school too. Your child is simply doing the easy thing and speaking the most widely spoken language around them.
To overcome this be consistent and continue to communicate with your child in your mother tongue, rather than telling them off or giving up. Remember to praise them when they answer you back in the language you speak to them in. This will incentivise them and continue to build up their confidence.
Know What You’re Doing
Take the time to learn a little about how best to teach multiple languages from a young age, and to better understand the challenges your child might face during the learning process. It is possible to bring up a bilingual child: all it takes is a bit of extra effort, consistency and positive affirmations on your behalf. Although they may not see it at first, be assured they’ll thank you for it later.
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