Raising bilingual children comes with many well-known benefits. For parents, it can be very rewarding; however, it isn’t always as easy as some may think. Children don’t magically become bilingual overnight. Right from the start, it takes a lot of effort. There are various challenges to overcome along the way. There are certain things every parent needs to make the journey easier.
1. A plan
One of the most important things to have is a plan or a strategy that suits your family. There are a few different methods to choose from depending on your family situation. The two most popular are OPOL, (One Person, One Language) and Minority Language at Home, Community Language outside.
First, you need to decide who will speak which language and when, and think of a way you can make that work. Do you need to hire extra help to give more exposure to one of the languages, e.g., a nanny or language tutor. How fluent do you want your children to become? Do you want them to learn to read and write in both languages? Do you mind if they don’t have a native accent? Whatever your answers, you need to decide what your plan will be as a family and make the goals you want to achieve.
Raising a bilingual child takes time, in general. You need time to research and read up on bilingualism and time to work out a plan. You need time to talk to your child a LOT, time to read them books and play activities. Sure, parents of monolingual children need to spend time with their children too, but when children are learning two languages at once, more time needs to be dedicated to making sure they get enough exposure from both languages.
Books are extremely important. Bilingual children need a variety of books in both languages, especially the minority language, the one the child gets the least exposure in. Reading aloud to children every day has many benefits to a child’s language skills, the more words they hear, the more vocabulary they accumulate.
A powerful way to teach your child a language is through music. Most children can sing a song before starting to speak sentences, so singing songs and playing music can be a huge help in the language learning process.
Children pick up on how their parents feel and act, so as parents you need to be enthusiastic about learning the language. Teach them about where you are from, and about the culture, show them how proud you are of the language you speak, and make them feel proud of themselves.
This is probably one of the most important things you need, yet also one of the most difficult. Being consistent makes the journey easier for your children. Keep to the family plan, choose your teaching method and be consistent when speaking to your children. Mixing things up only causes your expectations to be confused.
All children develop their language abilities differently and some can be slower than others. It can be frustrating for some parents when comparing their children to their monolingual peers; however, although some bilingual children may be a little behind in fluency in one of their languages initially, they will soon catch up so there is nothing to worry about.
Raising a bilingual child is not always easy, and many parents at some point think of giving up. There are many challenges to overcome, but by persevering you are giving your child one of the best gifts in the world, and no doubt they will be thankful for it in the future.
Every parent of bilingual children needs support. Whether that be from your partner, your family or friends, or by joining playgroups or social groups. Having people who understand what you are trying to achieve can make all the difference.
This is a big one, kids naturally learn better while having fun. Any activity they have fun doing they will want to continue so by playing their favorite games, reading their favorite books, and making learning a language a thing they enjoy, they will learn even without thinking or trying.