Raising a Bilingual Child

A question parents often ask is How do I teach my baby two languages?

There is much research into bilingual language acquisition and its merits.  The main positive message is this-  it is excellent for the brain and may help protect against mental decline in old age.   Certainly in childhood, the benefits include an increased ability to ‘multi-task’ and think analytically. In addition it helps children to learn about the diversity in the world and the different cultures and people in it.

So how can you help your baby or young child?  Here are a few tips!

  1. You can only teach your child a language that you are fluent in.  This means that sending your toddler off to French classes when you dont speak a word of French will not work!  Also, if you only have a smattering of words in French, you may be teaching your child incorrect grammar resulting in a creole type of language.
  2. If one parent speaks 2 languages (eg Italian and English) and the other speaks only English, then your baby will identify Italian with that parent.  This will help him code switch between parents.
  3. All the traditional songs, nursery rhymes and books are an integral part of learning the language and the culture.  This will help baby.  Sometimes a grandparent may take on this role.  Find other speakers of the language in the community too.
  4. Dont mix the languages.  (Put the pollo in the chicken coop, per piacere).  Try to keep to one language in one setting to help your child learn which words belong to which language.  Sometimes families will have one-parent-one-language (mum English and Dad- Chinese).  Or you can also have one language at bathtime and then switch to the other language at mealtimes and so on.
  5. There is some evidence to show that children learning two languages may show some lag in their language milestones initially (due to the increased load) but they eventually catch up and the benefits far outweigh this initial lag.

If your child has this wonderful opportunity to learn more than one language, then encourage it!