Your starter guide to raising bilingual children

Your starter guide to raising bilingual children

What you need to consider for a successful bilingual journey

Just over a year ago, my son Leo was born. I knew I wanted to raise him multilingual but I had no idea how. I thought, I just need to speak to him in Portuguese and he will automatically learn to speak it, right? But I also wanted him to speak Mandarin. I was told ‘you can only choose one language otherwise it won’t work’. I was torn between the two languages, they both represent who I am, how can I choose only one? 

So I set out to find out the truth behind the common belief that one parent can only speak one language to their child because I needed someone to tell me this is not true. I realised finding reliable and useful information about bilingualism is not easy at all.

Most articles I came across highlighted the benefits of being bilingual but very few provided useful steps on how to do it and what I needed to consider. This was the birth of I wanted to provide useful information to busy parents who know they want to raise their child bilingual but don’t know how to do it and don’t have the time to research and read books about it.

Below is a simple guide that can help you think about your bilingual journey and dramatically increase your chances of success.

Things to consider

The languages – it may sound obvious, but this is the first thing you need to decide. Think about the languages and the reason you want to choose that language and what it means to you (culturally, emotionally, socially, economic benefits).

The approach – a) OPOL (one parent, one language), b) mL@H (minority language at home), c) time and location (tie the use of language to a specific time, location or activity) d) mixed approach. Understand what each approach encompasses and decide on one or a combination that makes sense for you.

Language policy – what is the policy regarding language use? Parent 1 with child, Parent 2 with child, between parents, at home vs when out, with grandparents, etc.

Language goals – how fluent do you want your child to be in each of the languages? This might sound very abstract and far away but it is helpful for both parents to know their expectations, this can easy your anxiety or motivate you to stick to your goals.

Exposure time – how much time can you realistically spend with you child providing input for that language? (This is specially important for the parent who will be the main source of input for a minority language).

Understand the theory of language acquisition in children to know what to expect (potential road blocks, developmental phases, etc)

Planing ahead – type of care (nanny, preschool, etc), when to start (age), how often and how long (frequency and length at school), care in the minority language (what options are there?), moving to another country (planned vs unplanned).

Seek help – its normal to go through ups and downs, but you must know where to look for help for when you need it. Make sure to find a community or a professional (ideally someone who understands bilingual education) that can guide you when things get hard or when you suspect intervention is needed.

Be consistent – this is the most important thing you need to do!

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