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How One Multilingual Parent can Pass on Two Languages
Parents raising bilingual or multilingual children usually follow a language strategy to keep things consistent. I have previously written other posts in detail on the most common ones, OPOL – One Person One Language, and MLAH – Minority Language at Home. However, there are other adaptions that families can use in specific circumstances. For example in a family where one bilingual and multilingual parent who would like to pass on two languages. Or a single parent wanting to raise a bilingual child.
Bilingual and Multilingual parents often think that they have to choose one language to speak with their child. However, it is possible to pass on both languages if you have a good plan and can stay consistent. It can seem like a daunting task, especially if your partner is only speaking one language with your children, and in most cases it is the community language so there is a lot of exposure. But, it can and has been done successfully by many families. The main thing again, is consistency, and of course your own motivation.
A popular choice with multilingual parents is a language rotation. You may choose one week or two weeks, whichever works best for you. You speak Language A for one week, making sure to only use this language at all times with your children. Then the next week switch to Language B.
Many parents who choose this option usually either do something special on changeover day to mark the day and make it a big deal so they remember. Others might decorate the rooms differently, changing the books on the bookshelf, posters on the wall etc, to the target language to make sure they remember which language to speak.
Time and Place / Context
The time and place language strategy is where you choose either a time or a place to speak a specific language to your child. So it might be that you speak Language A inside the house, and Language B outside. Or you might speak Language A when you are alone, and Language B when you are with certain people.
Another popular option is having a special room, or corner of the room dedicated to a language. So, you would place all of your books and activities in this special place.
Seek Outside Help
Don’t think you always have to go it alone, most of the time it is possible to access outside help to assist you in one of the languages, perhaps the one you think needs the most support. Perhaps you can join a mothers group or play group, or even join an online community group for support. You can research language lessons in your area, or hire a bilingual nanny. With so much technology these days, there are also many online language resources.
Can children REALLY learn both languages well?
Just like anything, it will always depend on how much effort is put in, and how much consistency. But, if there is the need for children to use the languages they will use them. Of course there will be the competition with your partners language and/or the community language, and it won’t be easy. But, it is possible. If you are consistent every day and your children are prasticing both languages as much as possible there is no reason they can’t learn both.
And if they don’t?
If you are struggling and it is affecting your relationship with your children you need to reassess your language goals. Your relationship with your children is not worth sacrificing for the sake of languages.
If outside help is available, take full advantage. But if not, perhaps choose one language to make your primary language together, and then set aside a time each day to teach them your second language, perhaps through books, songs and activities. In this case your children will most likely speak your partner’s/community language, and your Language A to a native level, and then Language B will probably have enough exposure to at least speak conversational. As your children get older you can adjust your language plan and research other ideas to eventually help improve it.
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