Bonjour. Hola. Ciao.
Chances are, most of us (and our kids) know how to say “hello” and a handful of other words in multiple languages. But what does it take to simultaneously teach your children more than one language and raise them to be truly bilingual?
We traded tips and ideas on exactly that with Ana and Roxana of Spanglish Baby, along with a number of others, in The Motherhood today. To find out more about the challenges, rewards and best practices for raising bilingual children, keep reading!
Is Bilingual Better?
“Bilingual is better! This is why I’m trying really hard to do as much as I can to get my children and myself to be bilingual,” said Justice Jonesie.
As Ana of Spanglish Baby pointed out, recent studies indicate that bilingual children:
– Concentrate better
– Are better multitaskers
– Are faster readers and better at reading comprehension
– Find it easier to learn new languages
When to Start Teaching a Second Language?
“THE SOONER THE BETTER!” said Ana of Spanglish Baby. “Children’s brains are programmed to learn all the sounds they are exposed to as soon as they are born and even in-utero.”
Three Main Methods for Teaching Two Languages
1. Minority Language at Home (mL@H)
This is when both parents speak the minority language (in the US it would be anything but English) at home ALL the time. Even media and books are in the minority language (or L2) as much as possible. No fear, 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. The key is that both parents must be on board and very consistent.
3. Time & Place
This ones 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. Or just 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.
Are Immersion Programs Enough?
Many bilingual kids have parents who speak two language and speak the minority language at home (ML@H). However, “I think there are many opportunities for kids nowadays thanks to the Internet: bilingual books and tapes, bilingual radio stations and YouTube clips in foreign languages,” said Elisa of Mother Talkers. “I think regular exposure to the language is ideal and at least will plant the seeds for more language learning later on.”
Added Betiana, “For immersion programs to be effective, at least 50% of the time needs to be spent speaking/listening/reading/writing in the target language.”
“We don’t speak Spanish at home, so my kids do all their practice at school and I keep my fingers crossed it will be enough for them to become fluent,” said Sarah of Sarah and Sons.
When Kids Resist Becoming Bilingual
Even if your kids begin answering your questions in English, “continue answering in Spanish (even if your first instinct is to reply in English),” suggested Jeannette of Todobebe. “Ask your child to repeat the question or phrase in Spanish. You can even translate and reword in Spanish to get your point across, since your child might not remember all the words.”
Finding peers who speak the same second language as your child is also a major factor. “Playgroups are huge! So is travel and finding ways to making the language meaningful,” said Ana of Spanglish Baby.
“My kids rebel once in a while, or my son says ‘I don’t understand what you are saying,'” added Silvia of Mama Latina Tips. “That reminds me I need to read more in Spanish to them! Vocabulary!!”
Cultivating Both Languages
“The best way to expand your vocabulary in any language is by reading,” Jeannette of Todobebe pointed out.
“Heritage festivals are also big in our family,” said Grace of HapaMama. “Being in a space where kids can hear the language spoken organically, see music and dance, and take part in games in activities makes it come to life.”
For Stephanie of In Culture Parent, music is an effective method of teaching a new language. “It is consistently my kids’ music CDs in other languages that become their favorites and I’m amazed to see they can sing every word, even if they might not understand every word yet,” she noted.
And travel to countries where people speak the second language when you can. “Our boys’ Spanish blossomed when we spent 2 weeks in El Salvador this past summer,” said Tracy Lopez. “They learned more in those few days than they had in a year’s time at home.”
It’s Never Too Late
If you are raising bilingual kids but only speak one language yourself, there is still time to learn. “I’m raising 2 bilingual boys, 4 and 7,” said Silvia of Mama Latina Tips. “I’m bilingual, but learned English just 10 years ago. I tell my kids this all the time!!”
Sometimes teaching two languages can be tough, but the group agreed that you need to be consistent and persistent. And it will be worth it. As Roxana of Spanglish Baby said, “Congratulations to all who are raising bilingual children! You’re giving your children an incredible gift!”