I have to admit that it’s certainly easy for me to say that it’s easy to raise a bilingual child, because my husband and I are both native Spanish speakers and we naturally use it at home. My daughter has been exposed to the sounds of Spanish ever since she was in the womb. Yet, that doesn’t mean that we could just throw all caution to the wind and expect that by simply speaking to her in Spanish she would become completely bilingual. There is no guarantee she wouldn’t one day rebel against it, as most kids do at a certain age when they realize that English is all around them and that other language is pretty much just spoken by their not-so-cool-anymore parents.
Even with all the exposure my girl has gotten, she’s still very much a Spanglish baby in the sense that she mixes English and Spanish words in the same sentence all the time. She even makes up her own translations in the most obvious of ways, saying things like pushar, a combination of ‘push’ and ’empujar;’ or pursera, for ‘purse’ and ‘cartera.’ Quite comical and scary at the same time because the goal is for true bilingualism and not a horrid barbarization of the language.
So what are you to do to guarantee your child learns a second language as early as possible?
First of all, you and your partner must have a plan, a method of sorts to decide which strategies work best for you.
3 Most Popular Methods to Raise a Bilingual Child
1. Minority Language at Home (mL@H)
This is when both parents speak the minority language (in the U.S. it would be anything but English) at home ALL the time. Even media and books are in the minority language as much as possible. Don’t worry about being monolingual at home; the child will learn English from friends, the environment, school, etc.
2. One Parent One Language (OPOL)
This is when one parent speaks one language and the other another language. This method seems complicated at first because it does require logistics and planning, however, it’s considered to be the most effective technique. The key is that both parents must be on board and very consistent.
3. Time & Place
This one, in which you schedule language usage, is a little less common and might not deliver the level of fluency and complete bilingualism you can achieve with the other two methods. A scenario might be of a family using one language for two weeks and then switching over to the other language for the next two weeks. Another option would be choosing days of the week when the language is spoken. It can also be the child is exposed to a second language at school in a dual immersion program.
So now that you have a plan, you need to find ways of fun and engaging ways to immerse your child in the minority language of choice.
6 Ways to Easily Immerse Your Child In a Second Language
1. Habla, habla, habla!
It is so important that your kid hears the second language at least 50 percent of his waking hours. That means that either one of the parents or a caregiver who speaks the language must spend a significant amount of time with him and do a lot of talking.
2. Read, read, read!
Find good books in Spanish, or whichever minority language you are choosing, and read to your child every single day as much as possible. Not only will it cultivate a love for literacy, but it will also add to the amount of exposure she’s getting to the language.
3. Watch movies and TV in Spanish!
Here’s a fun tip not everyone knows or thinks about: almost every single children’s movie on DVD comes with a Spanish-language option. Use it and your child will never know the difference! Many children’s channels, like Disney Junior, have a SAP option in Spanish as well. If your child enjoys movies and TV, then make that time another opportunity to learn Spanish. Yes, this option is more available to Spanish and French speakers than other languages, but check your channel listings — many cable services provide at least one channel in many other languages.
These are so important for both parent and child. Language learning needs to feel fun and immersive for your child, and bilingual playgroups achieve just that. They also help create a village of like-minded parents that can meet to share resources, tips, frustrations, etc.
This option is certainly not available to all, but if you do have the means and an adventurous spirit, try to spend summers abroad as a family or visit any relatives living in your heritage country. This has been key for us, since we need to travel to either Mexico or El Salvador every year so our girl can reconnect with her family and the language they speak. It also gives her a perceived notion of the need to speak Spanish because that’s what her favorite cousins, abuelas, aunts, and uncles speak.
6. Immersion programs at school
If you have an option for any type of immersion program (dual or full) in preschool or above, then take it. Enrolling your child into a dual immersion program will pretty much guarantee you raise a bilingual and biliterate child.
Are you raising a bilingual or multilingual child or are thinking of raising one? If you are, please share any tips with us. If you’re thinking about it, feel free to leave a comment with any question, doubt, fear, hesitation you might have so we can all help you find the answer.
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Check out the forthcoming 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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