How to raise a Bilingual Child – from Baby to Teen
How to raise a bilingual child. Various language strategies and methods to suit any family situation including adaptions.
So you have read about the benefits of bilingualism and have decided that you want to raise a bilingual child. But now you are asking your self the big question, how do I go about it?
Well, did you know you can raise a bilingual baby? So start from birth if you can, or as early as possible.
An important thing to remember is that there is no one way approach to raising a bilingual kids.
It depends on each individuals family situation and needs, and what works for one family, may not necessarily work for another. You first need to ask yourself what will be best for you and your family. And which bilingual parenting method will best help your children.
If you want to know how to raise a bilingual child, you will need to think about things such as:
- Which languages are spoken?
- When is each language spoken?
- How often is each languages spoken?
- How much exposure will your child get to each language?
Recommended: 5 Stages of Language Acquisition
Start Early – Raising a bilingual baby
Babies can be bilingual from birth. So if you can, start as early as possible. The earlier your child is exposed to the language, the better.
Of course from birth isn’t always possible, and that is ok too. But there is a critical period when children are able to pick up languages easier, and that is within the first few years of life. It isn’t to say that you can’t teach a child a language later on, it just means that it is easier when they are younger.
Adopt a Language Strategy for Raising Bilingual Kids
Though there are various different ways to raise a bilingual child, most parents will use one of these language strategies.
Once you have chosen your family strategy, the most important thing is to stick with it and be consistent.
Check out our language strategies below to see which works best for your family. Here you can find advantages and disadvantages for 4 popular methods.
1. Raising Bilingual Kids using OPOL
OPOL seems to be the most popular method when raising a bilingual child and is as simple as it sounds; one person, one language. Each person speaks to the child in the same language consistently and do not speak the other language as to not confuse the child. The child is expected to respond in the language which is spoken to them, and the parent should correct the child if they respond differently.
Advantages of OPOL:
- Each person is speaking to the child is speaking in their own mother tongue with a native accent therefore they will pick up the language to a native level.
- The child will learn who to speak with in which language and therefore there will be less confusion.
Disadvantages of OPOL:
- If the minority language is spoken by a parent who is not the primary caregiver they may not get as much exposure to it and it may become a passive language where they understand what is being said but reply in the majority language.
There are also adaptions to OPOL you can look at if you think that the One Person One Language strategy isn’t for you.
2. Raising Bilingual Kids using MLAH
In this scenario the minority language is spoken at home between both the parents and children, however out in the community and at school, the children will speak the second language.
Advantages of MLAH
- The whole family can speak together in one language.
- It strengthens the minority language so that the children are getting exposure to it more often
Disadvantages of MLAH
- Younger children who are not at school yet, have more exposure to the minority language. When starting school they can sometimes be a little behind other peers in the community language.
- If one parent is not speaking their native language they may not feel comfortable or confident speaking that language consistently with their children. Also if they don’t speak it well enough, children can pick up the mistakes made or the slang used.
3. Raising Bilingual Kids using Context or Time & Place
The context method (or time and place) requires the use of each language in a different context or situation. It depends on where you are, and who you are with.
For example, if you have family members or friends who only speak a certain language, you switch the language you are speaking so that you are able to all understand each other.
Another example could be that you speak one language in every day situations, but then choose a certain time of the day (or week) where you speak a different language. Many families do this to give a certain language more exposure.
Families who follow the context method, usually speak different languages with each other on a daily basis
Advantages of Time & Place
- Your child will learn quickly, where to speak which language, and who with. They will realise that different languages are spoken in different situations.
- Others are not isolated from your conversation because you change to accommodate who you are with.
Disadvantages of Time & Place
- There isn’t really any consistency and there could be a risk of confusion.
- Children may take preference to one language and therefore the other/s may lack in exposure.
4. Mixing Languages
This is where there are frequently between the languages at any given time. Parents and children will switch from one language to the other depending on what they are doing or the context of the conversation.
It seems to be used mostly in countries that have an official second language. For example, In parts of Canada they speak both English and French. Or in countries with different dialects throughout such as Italy.
Advantages of Mixing Languages
- There is no need for any plan, it all comes naturally
- Children are not forced to speak a language when they don’t want to.
Disadvantages of Mixing Languages
- Children may favour one language over the other and so they may grow up with a native level of one language, while the other is lagging behind.
Remember, bilingual kids mix languages or may code switch initially when learning more than one. While this is ok, it is important that you find a way to teach them to differentiate between them.
Follow The Magic Formula for How to Raise a Bilingual Child
There are two main things you need to raise a bilingual child.
Exposure + Need
You need to expose your child to the target languages as much as possible. This could be from parents at home, at daycare or school, from language lessons, or even family and friends.
Then make sure there is the need for your child to use them. If there is no need to use and practice the language, then it will be difficult for your child to reach fluency.
Choose a language strategy and be consistent.
Find Great Resources
Check out the following posts with resources to help raise kids with multiple languages.
- 10 Things you need to raise a bilingual child
- 25 ways to Boost Language Skills
- How monolingual parents can raise bilingual kids
- How one multilingual parent can pass on two languages
- Free Online Language Resources
No matter which methods you follow to raise your child bilingually, it requires a lot of patience and at times can be a lot of work. But the long term benefits outweigh any of the difficulties you will start off with.
Raising bilingual kids can definitely be a challenge. The rule of thumb when raising bilingual kids is to try your best to be consistent and persevere, no matter which method you choose or which rules you follow.
So the answer to how to raise a bilingual child? Well, follow one of the language strategies mentioned above, or use an adaption.
And just like any other form of parenting, if you are consistent, there is a good chance that you will succeed, and that your child will become bilingual soon enough.
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Thank you for the article! We have an Eurasian baby. There is a theory, that one language should be kind of primary language in terms of “thinking language”. So it should be first to learn.
What is your opinion about it?
Chontelle Bonfiglio - Bilingualkidspot
Children raised bilingually are usually able to “think” in both languages if they have enough exposure to both.
In some cases one language may dominate, but it doesn’t mean they should learn one language first. Kids can learn two languages at the same time.
If you would like to discuss in more detail join us in our community group https://www.facebook.com/groups/bilingualkidspot/
May I add a very straightforward though critical note to the use of ‘mixing language’ strategy, that is to speak in ‘one language in one sentence’. The problem I face everyday, is parents (and even some ‘teachers’! ?) talking to their children in ‘sentences’ consisting of two (rarely but sometimes even more) languages. Usually they speak in their mother tongue, replacing some nouns with the English words. It is so terrible that some children would speak (actually solely) in their mother tongue not knowing for instance the names of all the colours (or common fruits like apples or oranges) in their mother tongue but only English!!! Even worse, you can see them NOT getting the syntax of either language and not constructing grammatical sentences soon when they grow. It makes them feel inferior and further hinder their enthusiasm and motivation in learning to speak the languages.
It is very usual to mix the two languages in daily conversations here, I have to admit, but the ways how parents slip some English words in, are just completely different from the ‘natural way’ people speak! So, to compromise, I tell them to use ONE LANGUAGE only in at least a sentence, as I am afraid that ‘one language for a minute/a paragraph’ is already too long for them.
I think this is not quite the same case in other communities as people here are sadly overly stressing the importance of English and underestimating and undermining the importance of the mother tongue of most people here, the dominating minority (not as minority as Latvian though) language.
That was my two cents. Hope to share with the readers here.