Bilingualism – Bilingual Children

Raising Bilingual Children

The world is getting smaller globally and families that are of mixed cultures are becoming more common. Both parents then want their culture and language transferred to their children even in a country that speak a different language away from where they natively grew up in. So the question is how does one keep the pride of their culture and pass this on to their child, pass on a part of their identity.

Most parents are concerned that speaking to their child in different languages will confuse them and result in a delay in language development. With current studies this is found to be a myth. Studies have found that bilingualism does not cause a language delay in children.

In fact exposing them to many languages are beneficial for their learning in the later years with current research saying children will benefit with increased creativity, be able to communicate with more people, better at solving complex problems and advantages in thinking skills.

Gone are the days in which educators may say that bilingualism can cause language delays in children. If so it will be minimal and insignificant in the grand scheme of things of being able to speak several languages which can be beneficial in this modern world.

As Montessori has observed the critical period for language is from 7 months in utero until 6 years of age. One should talk to their children as they can absorb languages much more easily and learn a 2nd or 3rd language as a child rather than as an adult. It is a unique gift you can give to them. Teaching a child a new language can never start too early, as in different stages it develops from learning the pronunciation to learning proper grammar.

If you want to raise your children bilingual one has to have a plan or a goal as to what degree of bilingualism do you want your children to learn and of course consistency is needed. It is not easy especially if the language at home will be different from the language of the community or you and your partner speak a different language which both is ideal to be learned by the child.

If both parents speak the same language at home and is different as that of the community- keep speaking the home language to your child. Keep this consistent and do no fear that the child will not learn the community language. When the child gets exposed to the community or school the community language will be learned just as quickly. A child that is exposed to a new language completely can learn it quickly and even try to speak it within a short period of time. Unlike adults learning a new language, children will have more courage trying out a new language with no fear of mispronunciations.

Speaking to your child in your native language starting from birth will help with keeping to the consistency of speaking to them in a new language. You do not even have to formally “teach’ them your language but using them in everyday conversation swill simply pass this on. If you want the child to learn the language with more proficiency or another language in which is another language the parent speaks besides their native language books, videos and music can also be introduced.

It can be awkward and difficult if the child has to learn 3 different languages- the mother’s the fathers and the community’s. This can remain consistent with each parent speaking only their native language to the child only. Try not to mix it up so as to avoid confusion of vocabulary and grammar usage for the child. It will also avoid the child using both languages as one and can affect their language fluency. Even if the other parent is around speak in your native language to the child. It is rude to speak in a language in which the other cannot understand but for this case it is needed for consistency. A brief translation can be provided after if need be or it can also be a way for the partner to learn a bit of another language.

If the parent speaks 2 languages it should be decided as well if you want the child to learn that language. If it is not your native language but decide the child to learn another language that you might speak as well, try to set aside a time or several days in which that language is spoken to them to keep consistent and avoid confusion of languages.

As the child gets older and more sociable, your child may avoid speaking the home language as it is seen not being part of the community or to fit in with their peers. The attitude and importance given to the language can affect the development of the language development. This is considered normal and again just keep on speaking to them in your own language even if they do not seem interested. This phase is expected and will pass with proper management. Try not to give up though it may seem hopeless at times. They will later appreciate these lessons you have imparted on them.

The key to teaching your child to be bilingual is to remember to try not to mix the languages and be consistent at all times.

8 Comments on Bilingualism – Bilingual Children

  1. I’m German and my husband is english. My first child picked up both languages English and German very quickly. But my second child struggled with both languages. He just turned 5 and the speech therapist suggested to stick to English, because his speech is very much delayed. I’m worried, he suppose to start school this year but we kept him back till he is 6 years old

  2. I am an American living in Korea with my 2 and a half year old son. My Korean language skills are very poor, but enpugh to generally get along. My son speaks English at home with me and his school is in Korean. Its very clear that he understands both. I do worry that we may be confusing him because there is a lot of language mixing. Thanks for this article. I will try to not mix in Korean at home and ask his teachers not to mix in English in school.

  3. I am Spanish my Wife Russian and we leave in New Zealand. My wife and I communicate in English but we both speak in our mother language to our children. My son is just learning to speak but he seems to understand the 3 languages without problems. Is good to know that there are other parents with similar situations. I think speaking more than 1 language is great. I personally speak 4 languages and has given me a great advantage.

  4. My son is 20 months old and understands Polish (my mother thogue), Spanish (his dad’s and our language spoken at home ), and French, problably also some English, as we live in Montreal and are exposed to both of them. I am very happy about his language skills, although he doesn’s speak much yet, but it is clearly visible in different situations with different people that he understands very well all languages mentioned above. I am a multilingual person myself, but I had to put lots of effort in learning all of my five languages (3 of them at the native speaker level, 2 others very good), which I would like my son to avoid… Now, he’s learning naturally, which is the best way.
    I agree with Tatyana that teaching your mother tongue to your child, you give the the best gift ever!

  5. My twin daughters are 3,5 now. I am Russian and my husband is English. I made sure from very beginning that I spoke Russian to girls. It is hard at times as my husband doesn’t speak any Russian so he found it very frustrating at times and worried a lot that their English wouldn’t be as good as Russian as they spent more time with me. That proved to be silly as they now speak both very well in both languages. They only mix it up mainly when they speak to each other but do know exactly what words to use for me and their father. They go to British school, so now I worry more that they will prefer to use English as we live in English speaking community. Hope I will be strong enough to carry on! It is the best gift one can give to a child for their future.


  7. I am an American having recently moved to the middle east. My daughter is 3 and in just 4months time is speaking Arabic outside the home and English inside. She also seems to know which people speak which language and never confuses the two. Remarkable!

  8. It is interesting to know that the use of local language or mother tongue alongside with community language has no negative implication on the child.

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