The Do’s and Don’ts of Raising Bilingual Kids
As with anything in parenting, or life really, there are a thousand opinions about the “right way” to do something. Breastfeed or bottle-feed? Home school or public school? Screen time or none at all?
In the bilingual home, parents have their own unique sets of questions to answer. Will we adopt the one-parent, one-language method? How strict will we be in requiring the “correct” language in the home? Will we enroll our kids in enrichment classes or conversation groups?
As with all things parenting, there is no single correct way to raise bilingual children. Every family, child, and situation is different. So, while it’s wise to have a plan and an ideal strategy to follow, the most important thing is to listen to your gut and be flexible in meeting your family’s needs. Not always easy, I know, especially when it comes to raising bilingual children and everyone around you seems to have a different opinion.
When considering raising bilingual kids, there are several factors to consider, including:
- What language is naturally spoken in the home? Do both parents converse only in Spanish? Does mom speak French with the kids, and dad speaks English?
- What language is spoken at school? In the local community?
- What are the kids’ attitudes about the language? Not surprisingly, this can change frequently as they get older 🙂
- Are there close ties with extended family who speak the language?
- How frequently can you take vacations to places where the language is spoken?
- Do the kids enjoy television, movies, and music in the desired language?
Success when raising bilingual children? Here some tips:
Get on the same page with your spouse or partner.
The question of how, when, and if you’ll raise your children to be bilingual is an important parenting decision. If you’re not in agreement, it will make the process an uphill battle. Start an open dialogue about it and settle on a strategy that you think will be best for the whole family. Be prepared to adjust your strategy as the kids grow up or your situation changes (i.e. new school, new friends, new city, etc).
Make it fun!
Look for ways to weave language learning into things that already interest your kids. Do they love cooking? Make it a habit to use the target language when whipping up recipes in the kitchen. Love music? Crank some tunes in the target language!
Make it relevant.
Give kids a reason to use the language. Find opportunities to interact with native speakers – perhaps family members via FaceTime, friends in a playgroup, or locals during a family vacation.
If you’ve decided that you will adopt the one-parent, one-language approach, stick with it. It’s natural for a child to respond in the “incorrect” language at times. That’s okay! Keep on answering them in the language you’ve decided upon. Even if they don’t respond, their brains are still absorbing all that language input. Just don’t give up and remember even though the kids might not be responding in the language you would like them to, they understood what you said, correct? So congratulations, your kids are already bilingual, they just need to find the urgency or need to use their not-so-strong language.
Read, read, read!
The more verbal input you can provide, the better those brains work at absorbing language. Fun, engaging books in the native language are an awesome way to do this. Check out our personalized books for kids to make one especially for your little language learner!
What should parents avoid when raising bilingual kids?
Whatever you do, don’t force it!
The worst thing you can do (in my opinion) is turn language learning into a chore. If you find your children pushing back on language classes or lesson time, it’s okay to ease up. The last thing you want is for kids to have a negative association with a language.
In the real world, nothing goes exactly as planned. You may have the textbook-perfect plan, but that means nothing in the day-to-day world of real parenting. Your plan will get derailed, your kids will push back at times, you’ll feel like giving up, and that’s okay! Just keep pressing on, and trust your gut.
Seek advice and community, but don’t compare.
Finding like-minded parents in the bilingual community is so, so important! But avoid the trap of comparing your journey to someone else’s. It’s very easy to look at another family and think, “wow, they are doing so much better at this than me!” The truth is, everyone’s path is different. We are all doing the best we can, so avoid the comparison trap!
Don’t give up.
Sometimes, we have the tendency to think this bilingual thing is “all or nothing.” Not true! Every little bit helps. Maybe you don’t achieve 100% target language with your child, but something is way better than nothing. It’s never too late to start, and it’s never the end of the world when you miss your self-prescribed mark.
Above all, take into account that raising bilingual kids is a journey. There is no single correct path to take, and there will be twists and turns along the way. Keep it fun, trust your gut, and know that every little bit is a step in the right direction! Like Dory says, just keep swimming!
Expert Advice by:
Leigh Ann Zerr, French and English teacher and mother of a budding French/English speaking little bilingual. You can follow her parenting journey on What Next Mom
Gabriela Schultze-Rhonhof Simmons (just to make it complicated), trilingual mom of trilingual teenagers that has experienced first hand the ups and downs of the multilingual parenting journey and is still in the middle of it all. Co-Founder of TimTimTom Books. Contact me on gaby at timtimtom dot com
A bilingual and personalized story that will spark your kid’s imagination and language ability.
You can customize the name and look of the child and choose any combination of two out of ten available languages.
(Some available language combinations: English-Spanish, English-German, English-Russian, English-Chinese, English-Portuguese, English-Italian, English-Dutch, English-French, French-German, Russian-German, Spanish-German.)
The books are now also available in one language
TimTimTom – Reading in Two Languages is Double the Fun