In an increasingly interconnected world, speaking more than one language can have a lot of benefits. But even if your family already speaks two languages, raising bilingual children can be a challenge. How do you increase the chances you’ll be successful?
Whether you’re raising your child in a bilingual home or a monolingual one, you’ll likely need some help in ensuring your child grows up speaking two different languages. Here are some of the best tips for raising a bilingual child.
Tips for Families That Are Bilingual
If you’re raising a child in a bilingual home, you may think your child will pick up both languages naturally. They might, but it’s not a given. To increase your child’s ability to learn both of your family’s languages, you should:
Speak both languages a lot.
If you're wondering how to raise a bilingual baby in a bilingual home, the simplest answer is: speak to them as much as possible in both languages. Research shows that the more words you expose your child to, the faster they’ll learn a language. Don’t worry about them getting confused between the languages. Babies and children have the capacity to process two languages.
Choose reading over TV.
If you live in a multilingual city, you may have access to television stations in more than one language. You may also be able to stream shows in multiple languages. This may tempt you to use the television to help you with raising bilingual children, but reading to your child—and having them read—is much better for language development as it allows your child more time to process words and learn grammar.
Decide how to split the two languages.
You won’t be speaking both languages to your child simultaneously, so how do you make sure they get plenty of exposure to both? Different families follow different strategies. One of the most common methods is having one parent speak one language all the time and having the other parent speak the second language all the time. Another common method is rotating which language you speak at home from one day to the next. Choose whatever is most comfortable for you, but stick to it so your child gets relatively equal exposure to both languages.
Tips for Families That Are Monolingual
When it comes to raising bilingual children in a monolingual home, the key is creating as many opportunities for language exposure as possible. You should:
Learn the basics of the second language.
If you’re trying to figure out how to teach a bilingual child as a monolingual parent, the most direct solution is to learn some of the second language your child is learning. While it’s true that our ability to learn new languages declines once we hit adulthood, you can still learn the fundamentals of pronouncing the sounds within the language and teach yourself the most common words. But don’t stress over it too much. One reason adults sometimes struggle with new languages is that they’re trying too hard. Learn what you can in whatever way is easiest and most enjoyable for you.
Enlist the help of family or caregivers.
Does anyone in your circle of friends and family speak the second language you’re raising your child to speak? If so, they may be willing to spend time with your child, speaking to them in the second language. If you don’t know anyone who can help, another option is to look for a childcare provider who speaks the language you want your child to learn. Some places even have preschools where children can be immersed in a second language.
Travel to where the language is spoken.
While it can feel daunting to travel to an area of town or a part of the world that speaks a different language than you, doing so can be beneficial when raising bilingual children. There is simply no substitute for hearing a language spoken by native speakers. If at all possible, you should expose your child to such settings throughout their childhood to help them become bilingual.
The Importance of Bilingual Education
One of the best tips for raising a bilingual child is to put them in a bilingual education program. This is true whether you’re a bilingual or monolingual family.
In the past, many families didn’t have access to second-language education until their child entered high school. And, even then, the options were often slim. But with the rise of online school, many children can receive second-language education at a much earlier age—and the choices are wider than ever before.
For example, at Connections Academy, the curriculum allows your child to choose courses in Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, German, and Latin as well as courses in the more traditional French and Spanish. When children learn a language online, they have an incredible opportunity to immerse themselves in that language, receiving expert guidance from teachers along the way. And, since Connections Academy is a public school, the world-language courses are tuition-free and available to most families across the U.S.