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How One Multilingual Parent can Pass on Two Languages

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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.

Language Rotation

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.

Are you raising a bilingual child? Take a look at our Language Resources for kids. Subscribe for related articles. Follow Bilingual Kidspot on Facebook and join our online community and support group!

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2 Comments

  1. Gaby mitchelson

    Hi, I am a mother of a 23 month old bilingual child and wonder about the point of ‘creating the need for the (minority) language’. As my child knows that I can speak English due to overhearing conversations with her daddy and the English community out there (we live in England), it seems strange to pretend in direct conversations with my child that I only understand German (minority language) in order to create the need for my child to communicate in German. I might not fully understand the opol approach, and must admit I haven’t read books about it all except some articles online.
    So, how do I create the need for German? More ideas?
    Note: my child understands everything I say in German but often chooses to reply in English as she is more exposed to English.
    Your advice would be much appreciated.
    Many thanks
    Gaby

    • Hi Gaby,
      There is no need to “pretend” that you don’t understand. However it is important that you are consistent in replying back in German, and try to encourage your little one speak back in German too.
      You can do this in many ways, for example buy her favourite books in German and read them over and over together. Play German music in the house and sing together often. Have LOTS of one on one time together where you only speak German. If you allow screen time, have it ONLY in German. We did this when we lived in Italy. We aren’t big on screen time, however if it was in English, I allowed them to watch some cartoons for a certain amount of time per day.
      If you create a German environment at home when it is only the two of you together, she should eventually respond to you in German naturally 🙂
      I would like to invite you into our community group for bilingual kids here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/bilingualkidspot/
      We are a group of parents raising multilingual kids and many are in the same situation as you 🙂
      Chontelle

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