Decisions for Parents with Bilingual Kids
So you have read all of the benefits of raising bilingual kids and have made your first decision. You have decided that raising your child bilingually is the right path for your family. But now what? Well, there are a few more decisions you will have to make. Many more decisions! Let’s run through a few of them:
Which languages will your child learn?
This actually seems like an easy question. But, depending on your family it can be quite complex. It depends on your native languages, where you live, what language you and your partner speak between yourselves, and what the community language is.
-If you and your partner have different native languages, the decision can be quite easy. Your child can learn both of your native languages. But what if you speak a third language between yourselves, do you want your child to learn the third language too? And what if the community language is totally different to the languages you speak? That adds a fourth language! Do you want your child learning all four languages?
-If neither you nor your partner speak a second language, you will have to decide on a language that is actually possible for your child to learn. A language where you can find resources easily in your area, or a language that a relative or friend speaks, who you may see often. Or a language taught at school, or at private language schools near you.
Who will speak which language?
There are different language strategies or language methods that you can follow, and again they depend again on your family dynamic.
OPOL – One Person, One Language: Where each person speaks a different language to your child, usually your native language. It can be parents, family members, or a nanny for example. Each language is associated with a specific person (or people).
MLAH – Minority Language at Home: Where the minority language is spoken at home, and the community language outside.
Time and Place / Context: This method is where each language has a context. For example: Language One is spoken at home, Language two is spoken at school and in the community, Language 3 is spoken at immersion school. Or: Language one is spoken at home, Language two is spoken with extended family. It all depends again on your family dynamic and where you live.
Mixing Languages: This approach is quite relaxed, there are no real rules and children often use both languages on a daily basis. It is common in countries where there are two official languages used on a daily basis in all situations. It can also happen if each partner understands each other’s native language and you switch language constantly while speaking to one another.
How fluent would you like your child to become in each language?
Depending on the amount of language exposure your children receive, will determine how fluent they become in a language.
Usually there is one language that is stronger, the majority language. This is usually the language used in the community or at school. The minority language needs more attention. This is the language with less exposure. The language spoken by less people that your child spends time with.
It can sometimes happen, that a child becomes passive bilingual, where they can understand a language but do not speak it. In many cases this happens when both parents understand and speak each others language, and are not strict on having their child speak back in their language.
If would like your child to become proficient in both or all languages then you may have to put in a little extra effort making sure that they get enough exposure to each language. As a rule of thumb, experts recommend around 25-30% wake time communicating in a language to become fluent. However, this rule can be contradicted depending on how that time is spent. Quality time always wins over quantity.
Will you give your child a bilingual education?
Deciding on your child’s education is probably one of the most important decisions you will make. While there are many benefits of a bilingual education, it may not be the right choice for all families. You should answer yourself these questions first:
Do you want your child educated in more than one language?
Do you want your child to be able to read and write in each language?
Will you choose a local school, or an international or bilingual school?
If you decide on a bilingual education, you will need to then choose a school which is then another big decision.
If you are unable to find an international or bilingual school in your area, you will need to explore other options such as homeschooling in the minority language.
With time and resources, you could teach your child to read and write in the minority language yourself. However, if neither you or your partner speak the language your child is learning, your best option is to either send your child to an international or bilingual school, or to hire a language tutor to home school them.
What are your family language goals?
Each family has their own language goals, so each of these decisions should be made depending on what you want your child’s future to look like. There are many choices, and you will have many decisions to make, not just initially but all along the way of your bilingual journey.
Take things one day at a time, one decision at a time.
Try not to worry about what other families are doing, concentrate on your own family, and your own future family language goals and the decisions will come easy.
Take a look at the rest of the series: A-Z of Raising Multilingual Children hosted on The Piri-Piri Lexicon
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