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7 Do’s and Don’ts of Raising a Bilingual Child

raising-a-bilingual-childThose of us embarking on the journey of raising bilingual kids know that even though we wouldn’t have it any other way, it definitely is not an easy thing to do. Not only does it require commitment, ingenuity, planning and consistency, but also a sense of hyper awareness because we’re always placing language input as a day-to-day, moment-to-moment priority. In other words, we really never turn off the raising-bilingual-kids chip!

There’s tons of useful reads on the topic that motivate, encourage, and give you the tools needed to come up with a good plan. I’ll add to that a simple, yet precise list of do’s and don’ts to keep in mind for parents raising kids in two or more languages.

Do expose him to the language in ways that are fun, playful and immersive. Find playgroups of kids who are being raised in the same languages, or maybe a fun activity that can be done in the language. There are also lots of multilingual apps, movies, and books that should be part of your arsenal.

Don’t force or coerce a child to speak back to you in the target language. They easily become unresponsive and can even become rebellious because it puts them in control. This happened to me when my daughter was 4 years old and I had become vehement about the Spanish-only rule in our house because her exposure to English had increased so much at preschool. She realized it was a passion point for me, so she rebelled and used it against me. I call it the bilingual rebellion stage.

Do start immersing the child in the target language as early as possible. The earlier they start receiving consistent exposure to a language, the better.

Don’t believe that there’s an age when it’s too late to gift your child a second language.  It will be a bit harder the older they get because they’re not passive learners anymore, but with a good plan and constant exposure, it’s still possible especially if the target language can be spoken by at least one parent at home all the time.

Do be proactive in creating a bilingual family plan and committing to being consistent in the quality and quantity of language exposure that will be given to your child. Choose one of the methods of raising a bilingual kid and stick to it.

Don’t underestimate how important commitment and consistency are in successfully raising a bilingual child. As with everything in life, plans change and things need to adapt, but as long as you remain convinced that bilingualism is an important gift you want to give your child, you’ll always find a way to remain consistent.

Do surround your child with people and moments that will create for him a perceived need to speak the language. It helps them to be in situations where they need to be proactive about choosing to speak the language and feeling accomplished that they are able to do it on their own.

Don’t underestimate how capable he is of using the language when he needs to, even if with you he’s just been refusing to speak it. He’s still absorbing the sounds of the language and developing retention. He might just surprise you one day!

Do make sure the language exposure that different people provide is consistent and they don’t switch from one language to the next. This will help your child form the language relations he needs to thrive.

Don’t panic if your child starts mixing languages. It’s very common for children growing up with two languages to select words and phrases that work better for them in each language. It’s a phase they will outgrow and it’s actually a sign of a powerful bilingual brain that can easily code-switch between the two languages it knows well.

Do look for playgroups, day cares, preschools and/or dual language immersion programs in school to increase their exposure and help them become bi-literate as well. Immersion in a language is key to long term development of it and children learn best when they don’t realize they’re learning. That’s the beauty of learning a language at a young age through immersion!

Don’t assume that the exposure they are getting in another setting is enough to become completely fluent in the language — it’s a complement. Commit to finding ways to travel to immerse them even more, buy books in the language, find friends and/or family members so they can have exposure in a more natural, non-academic way as well.

Do find a supportive community of parents that are as passionate as you are about raising bilingual kids. This community can be online or offline, the important thing is to be able to share stories and hear from others so you know that it’s all just as it should be.

Don’t listen to uninformed people that think they are providing you with thoughtful information about the negative consequences of raising a child in two languages. Most of them are referring to common myths. The truth is we still haven’t found an anecdotal or scientific argument against bilingualism.

Share: Do you have any more do’s and don’ts to add?

Photo credit: Thomas on Flickr

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Buy the book I co-authored, Bilingual is Better: Two Latina Moms on How the Bilingual Parenting Revolution is Changing the Face of America.

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