Raising multilingual or bilingual children is a long-term commitment. Raising a bilingual child also requires you to simultaneously learn with them. To encourage language learning is to also support and facilitate practice. You can do a few simple things on a daily basis for a holistic language learning experience. Here are a few:
- Casually practice conversing in all available languages whenever you have the chance.
- Encourage translation between the languages your child is learning
- Encourage consumption of multimedia in all languages of interest
- Play word games or memory games using new vocabulary taught to your child
- Use your heritage language in daily home interactions
- Communicate with the child’s teacher to keep a clear image of your child’s progress
- Seek support from fellow parents and teachers of other bilingual children
Things to think about when you’re raising multilingual and bilingual children
There are many ways a person can acquire multiple languages in their lifetime. We first come in contact with language at home, when we learn to communicate as infants. As toddlers, our formal education begins, and typically, our introduction to the basics of written language. Starting with the alphabet, we gradually acquire more linguistic skills through our education. And this study of language continues for as long as we live—through school, college, and even adult life. Language learning is not limited to the classroom. Language is an experience that extends into the learner’s private and social life. It is through consistent use of the language that we truly develop a command over any language. We practice a language when we converse with people around us. And this is why raising a bilingual child requires conscious effort and participation from everyone around them.
Language: a bridge between peoples
Most cultures have a specific language or even a set of similar languages spoken across them. In today’s growing world, technology has brought everything and everyone closer than ever. The gaps that used to exist between all the different cultures are slowly fading. There are a lot more people today that can speak each other’s language than there were a few decades ago. Over a billion people across the world speak English. English is only an official language in some countries, however, millions also speak it as a second or third language. English has now become a universal bridge between cultures. Other languages like French and Spanish are also internationally used across cultures
Second languages in education worldwide
In many non-English-speaking countries, education in the English medium is easily available and common, too. These children, much like children from immigrant families in English-speaking countries experience both their languages simultaneously. They learn at school in English and then return to a social environment filled with their native tongue. They have a balanced exposure to all their languages. Parallelly, you may even find education in the regional language, but with English as an added subject. Although with lesser exposure than their English-medium peers, these children too acquire the second language over a long gradual process. As a result, many children worldwide today are bilingual or even multilingual.
In monolingual countries too, children find themselves faced with the challenge of learning a new language for school. Across the world, many children enroll in a second language course in school. Some schools or education boards even require their students to opt for a second language compulsorily. That is to say, students must choose a second language outside of their main academic subjects. But it is very rare to see these children fluently utilize these languages outside of the single hour a day dedicated to the language at school.
How do we translate language learning into language proficiency?
Raising multilingual or bilingual children is a long-term commitment. And raising a child who speaks multiple languages also means that you must also participate in their language learning experience. Practice makes perfect, and your child spends most of their day outside of school. To make multilingualism work for your child and family, you need to consciously devote significant time and energy. Learning multiple languages can greatly boost your child’s development and equip them with cognitive skills that will benefit them lifelong.
But it is not all as difficult and tiresome as it sounds. We use language at every point of every day. Whether it’s speech, text, reading, or even watching a movie or a show. There are little things you can do every single day to help your child in learning and practicing their languages.
1. Regular practice
Practice makes perfect. Try to build a practice of using all the languages in day-to-day interactions. Through regular exposure and use, the child can easily absorb the language. They can understand the subtle differences and also acquire the distinct phonetic palettes of each language. Practicing both languages simultaneously also helps them to form more natural comparisons and correlations between the two. By interweaving the languages into their daily life, you help your child by providing effortless consistency of practice. They continue to develop their language skills through the course of their day without needing to consciously dedicate practice hours.
Translation between two languages is rarely as direct and simple as we would like to imagine. Many languages are very different in their phonetic and grammatical structure. For languages as separated as Chinese and English, forming direct correlations is nearly impossible. Attempting to express in both languages is a great way to practice your language skills.
Translation for young children does not have to include full sentences. Practice with your child and encourage them to recall words for the same meaning in either language. This helps form a strong correlation between the meanings and corresponding words from each language.
3. Play games
Learning a new vocabulary is simply the first step to learning a language. The true challenge lies in retaining and being able to recall this newly acquired vocabulary. Encourage your child to revisit their developing glossary through fun word games or memory games. Playing games helps lighten the learning experience and is sure to make a child more receptive to the language learning experience. Before they know it, they have already practiced their memory and vocabulary through games.
Games similar to Shiritori are a classic way to make language learning a fun family affair. You can play such games without even having to worry about setting the stage. You can simply start a game while doing anything, sitting at home, going somewhere in a car, etc. It is an incredible way of making good on idle time. In addition, it requires the child to really think and exercise their memory. This could keep them engaged and out of trouble.
4. Learn through entertainment
The internet is truly a boon. There is an immense amount of entertainment available in every kind of medium possible. And what’s more, you can easily find something for any and every language you can think of. You can look for engaging content to add a little variety to your child’s language experience.
Find books, stories, or poetry and read aloud to your child. Encourage them to read and seek more knowledge. As they develop an interest in reading, you shall notice the growth yourself. Reading naturally urges young minds to expand their vocabulary. A gripping story will not only build their interest in the language but also free you of some of the responsibility of having to keep them engaged.
Even easier is to show them interesting cinema or show in that language. Watching content in another language is great for training your young one’s ear to the sounds of the new language. They can learn from direct exposure to a native accent and maybe even pick up the characteristic phonetics. Direct exposure to fluent samples of a spoken language helps pick up accurate pronunciations and inflections. This will help your child develop their language more fluently.
Caution: It is best to limit digital media during the early years of your child’s growth. Too much familiarity with audio-visual content can cause them to develop a dependency on digital tools. Please remember to monitor your child’s screen time, especially when they are very young. You must also appropriately filter the content they are exposed to because children are very impressionable in their early years.
7. Prioritise your heritage language
Your mother tongue is your heritage language. It embodies the culture of the generations before you. It defines your cultural identity and even aligns your beliefs. With every language comes a set of underlying characteristics that embed themselves in our very psyche. The nuances, the cultural references become a part of your daily life and give shape to your very identity as a member of society. Making sure your child is familiar with their heritage language is a fantastic way to keep them in touch with their roots.
While you help your child practice all their languages, you should encourage the use of your native tongue with family members. Use your heritage language as often and as wholly as you can at home. Regular and organic use of their mother tongue will help your child build a strong bond with other people who share the same cultural identity as them. maintaining the balance between the first and second languages goes a long way in raising a bilingual child. It leaves them with a lifelong impression and reinforces their social and emotional development too.
6. Teacher’s notes
Raising a bilingual child is incomplete without the participation of their language teacher. Parents and caregivers must make it a natural habit to build a steady conversation with their child’s educators. This way they can stay up to date with their child’s progress. In addition, you may also receive personal insights from the teacher about the child’s academic strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, keeping in touch with the teacher also gives you the chance to stay up to date with the materials and syllabus for your child.
You can take your involvement a step further by volunteering new original content for your child to learn from. All it takes is introducing your child to the different words all around them. alphaTUB makes it super easy for you to teach your child with their surroundings. You can create endless content by capturing images and creating TUB Sheets. The teacher too can
7. Community support
Man is a social animal. And language is his means of expression. This is why the people around us are integral to our experience of language. You can encourage your child to exercise their language skills with people in your community. This serves as not only practice but also hands-on experience in their articulation and expression. Where family offers comfort and connection, outsiders are the test for your child’s linguistic expression.
You must also know that there are sure to be more parents raising a bilingual child, much like you. It is a good practice to be familiar with your child’s peers and their learning experience. You may even learn how to counter some challenges you face yourself. Build a cooperative relationship with other parents or families. Group play and study sessions are also a wonderful way to spice up your child’s development outside of school.
alphaTUB to the rescue
All that active participation sounds a little daunting, doesn’t it? alphaTUB offers you a versatile screenless tool and platform to serve your child’s every learning need. You can create and use as much content as you want to engage your child. Use their own environment to help them learn and practice their languages. alphaTUB also efficiently facilitates an engaging classroom experience and even lets you collaborate with teachers and fellow parents! Raising a bilingual child has never been this simple!