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Raising Bilingual Children

Bilingual Parenting, Getting Started

How to Raise a Bilingual Child – Choose your method

methods: how to raise a bilingual child

How can I raise a Bilingual Child?

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? An important thing to remember is that there is no one way approach to raising a bilingual child. 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. 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?

Though there are various different ways to raise your child to be bilingual, however most parents will use one of these methods . Once you have chosen a strategy, the most important thing is to stick with it and be consistent. Raising a bilingual child can be a challenge. Even if it may seem hard at times, as with many things, consistency is the key to being successful and practice makes perfect.

OPOL – One Person, One Language

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.

MLAH: Minority Language at Home, Community Language outside

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.

Context Method or Time and Place

The context method 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 Context

-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 Context

-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.

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 Canada they speak English and French, in Sweden they speak Swedish and English.

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.

Choose a language strategy and be consistent

Raising bilingual children 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.

The main rule is to be consistent and persevere, no matter which method you choose or which rules you follow. 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.

“Sticking to it is the genious” – Thomas Edison

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1 Comment

  1. Cheryl H.

    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.

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