Credit: Little Bilingues

Meet this week’s guest writer:

Hello, my name is Judith, I am a 27-year-old expatriate living in London. After graduating from a MSc in management, I worked in the children’s books industry as a marketing and sales force assistant. I became increasingly frustrated with the jobs because I couldn’t take part in the editorial and creative process of publishing. For that reason, I started writing and/or illustrating children’s books. I created my own publishing company and also founded Little Bilingues, a website promoting French-English bilingualism for children aged 2 to 7.

Whether they are monolingual or bilingual, whether they live in their home country or abroad, many parents want their children to learn a second language from a very young age. Research has indeed established that the earlier the better. Parents often don’t know where to start or how to help their children develop their language skills.

Here are my practical tips to improve your child’s language skills and make your bilingual journey a bit smoother… Keep in mind that some tips are best suited for children who already know how to write and read in their second language while others are adapted to toddlers or children who have just been introduced to their second language.

1. Find a strategy and be consistent. You need to set a (realistic) goal regarding the bilingualism of your child. Do you want him to speak both languages equally and fluently? Or do you want him just to have good basis in the second language? Then, choose a strategy (One Parent One Language, Minority language at home…) and a schedule/plan (school options, number of trips to countries where the minority language is spoken…) and stick to them. There is no ideal method, choose the one that best suits your family structure, the available means and the degree of bilingualism you would like your child to reach. You may have to make some adjustments over time but try not to make big changes as that would probably confuse your child.

2. Make it fun. Sitting in front of a list of words or looking at traditional flashcards can be a total turn-off for some children, especially if they are very young. If it’s not fun at all, they are likely to resist it and language learning will become a chore or just another homework. Try to introduce bilingualism through play, interacting with your child in his minority language when he plays his favourite games. Focus on creative activities such as arts, crafts or cooking recipes… If your child is 4 or older, make him discover the culture, traditions and even geography of the countries where the languages are spoken. And try to have fun too!

3. Adapt to your child’s natural interests. This tip is a bit similar to the previous one: try to find activities that are attractive to your child and add a bilingual twist to them. For example, if your daughter loves horses, buy her a book about her passion in the minority language or register her on a course in a pony-club…

4. Make it useful. Kids don’t think about future payoffs when it comes to learning a second language, they want immediate usage. So try to be as practical as you can be: use words and expressions that your child will be able to use and repeat on a daily basis. He will be so proud to say what he wants to wear or do today after learning the words from you, a book or a game! Planning a trip to a country where the minority language is spoken is also a great way to make your kid understand that this language is really useful.

5. Talk and train his little ears. Even if your child is very young, make sure he hears both languages on a daily basis. Describe what you’re doing, do not hesitate to repeat the same sentences (children learn best with repetition) in order to immerse him in the language and to get him used to its sounds, rhythm and melody.

6. Encourage interactions. Your child won’t learn a second language by sitting on his own in front of the TV. Interaction is a key. Try to make your child speak and answer to you, ask him questions, engage him in discussions. Correct him only when you think it is really important (do not correct systematically as you may quickly discourage him) and don’t make a big deal out of it. A great way to encourage interactions are playdates with other bilingual children who are “like” your child. If your child knows how to write, you can look for a pen pal, ask your friends and family!

7. Read in both languages so that no language lags behind. Reading is primordial. Depending on the age of your child, read aloud to him, or let him read, or read at two voices. That will help boost your child’s vocabulary, encourage biliteracy and will also strengthen the bond between you and him. Build a small library in your home with books in both languages and let your child choose himself (just make sure he doesn’t always choose the same bedtime story over and over again!).

8. Be flexible. Be prepared to make some adjustments depending on your child’s progress and reactions to life as a bilingual child. Do not see these adjustments as failures. Each child is different and has his favourite ways to learn. Some children like challenges, others don’t and prefer to learn in a calm and reassuring environment. Some children love creative activities while others prefer reading peacefully. Your child will probably like some methods and reject others. Try to offer him a wide range of activities but give the priority to what he seems to enjoy the most.

9. Praise. Give your child positive feedback, value his progress by giving him compliments on what he is able to say and remember in both languages.

10. Be serious but not rigid. You have set rules. Good, you have to. But whatever you do, do not force bilingualism as it is the perfect recipe for disaster. Rules shouldn’t take the fun out of language learning. Find a balance and learn to recognise your child’s absolute limit.

Bonus. Be patient and find support. Education is challenging and a bilingual education even more. It won’t happen overnight. Do not get annoyed when your child makes mistakes or mixes languages in the same sentence. Remember that mistakes are part of the progress. And don’t worry, your child will eventually sort languages out and separate them if he tends to mix them. You may sometimes think about giving up, I think it’s perfectly normal. Any worry or question? Find a community of parents of multilingual children to share your issues, speak to someone you trust and don’t listen to the naysayers: bilingualism is a beautiful gift you’re offering your child and it won’t in anyway slow his development!

 

On my website and blog you will find information and advice about language learning. You will also find a range of bilingual materials (stories, activity sheets, card games…) available for download for free and, very soon, picture books that you will be able to purchase in print. All my materials are in accordance with the tips and principles I have just shared with you. Feel free to contact me via social media if you have any questions regarding bilingualism and early language learning, I’m always happy to help!

Thank you so much for sharing all those wonderful tips with us Judith! You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

How many languages do you speak at home? Is language learning an important skill you want your child to have? Why?

15 thoughts on “10 Tips To Encourage Bilingualism In Children

  1. mymyblue

    What a great article !!! Merci pour ce super article :-)
    At home we speak french essentially because we are both french so we don’t have to do the “one parent: one language” technique. TJ answers to us mostly in French but sometimes uses english or spanish words in his sentences, sometimes words he has transformed so that they sound french, LOL. e.i.: C’est parce que je l’ai tirer (tirer = tirar in spanish = jeter)
    At school TJ speaks english in the classroom and spanish during outside playtime. At the beach and the park, he interacts mostly in Spanish.
    I love the mixing part, I think it is a normal stage in the process of becoming fully trilingual, plus it’s funny :-)
    About TV, I would like to say that when we first arrived in Spain, TJ learned lots of spanish expressions with Dora and he would repeat and reused them at the beach, in fact they were the first things he said in Spanish : “Dondé esta? Aqui esta! (where is it?, it’s here!). So I learned that not all TV is bad (even if I hate Dora, she gets on my nerves…) and it can encourage interaction – of course “avec modération” :-)

    Reply

    1. Judith (little bilingues)

      Thank you mymyblue, I’m glad you liked the article. The mixing part is completely normal and I also find it funny and cute. I tend to mix French and English a lot when I speak! TV can be a good learning tool as long as it is not the only one. And I must admit I prefer books, bedtime stories and interactions to TV programs :-)

      Reply

  2. kirstin

    These are useful tips for me, I recently moved to Belgium and just signed up my son for (Dutch-speaking) preschool. My husband and I don’t know hardly any Dutch yet, so I’m still pondering what sort of strategy we’ll use for Darwin’s bilingualism. This has given me some good things to think over.

    Reply

    1. Sixtine et Victoire Post author

      Hi Kirstin! I am glad – hopefully Judith will be able to help you and give you some more pointers! I think your son will adjust better than you and your husband! Children are much more flexible than we are in terms of language learning. They pick up very quickly. And who knows – he might even be able to teach you a word or two. Thank you for your comment and see you again soon!

      Reply

    2. Judith (little bilingues)

      Hi Kirstin, thanks for your comment. I think a good strategy would be English at home and Dutch “outside” (preschool, playdates if you can contact other bilingual families?) for a start. I’m sure your son will adapt very quickly. I don’t know if you and your husband want to learn Dutch at some point? If you do, you will probably have to adapt your strategy by introducing just a little bit of Dutch at home: you will speak English all the time except during dinner for example. But all that really depends on you and your son (his progress in Dutch, if he seems to prefer English to Dutch or vice-versa, if he prefers books, activities or TV in English and in Dutch… and so on). Also, have you tried asking your son’s teacher(s) if they know other bilingual families? Would be great to get advice from them and organise playdates. Hope that helps a little, I wish you the best on your bilingual journey!

      Reply

      1. Eline @ Pasta & Patchwork

        That’s interesting – It had never occurred to me to have an ‘outside’ language. So far I have only been speaking Dutch to M. no matter where we are, because I had it in mind that consistency is key. I also don’t want him to learn all the mistakes that I make in Italian! However, I do feel awkward speaking a foreign language when we’re interacting with Italians. And, as Deb said, before long he will probably be teaching me things anyway. Need to rethink this one.

        Reply

  3. Reb

    Thanks for sharing! I am a huge proponent of point 6 – reading. But it’s important to remember not to force them into reading. For example, my daughter loves books but is hesitant to read in English (we are OPOL French-English living in France). And that’s ok. For now. she has just discovered the love of reading in French thanks to her French schooling. It’s a difficult balance, especially when your own language is not the preferred one. That said, I believe (and see through my kids) that harnessing a love of reading and books early on helps with grammar, makes them curious and builds vocabulary.

    Reply

    1. Sixtine et Victoire Post author

      Hi Reb,
      Did you find your children were late talkers?
      My daughter speaks mostly English but she tends to use words that are easiest to pronounce no matter the language. Would love some advice :) Thank you for your comment!

      Reply

      1. Reb

        Actually, my daughter was an early talker which totally surprised us. At 19 months, she was fluent in French and English but was just learning to walk. My son though was very different. He spoke later (not late but later) and preferred French and would only say things in a very precise way. For example, if he didn’t know the word in English, he would say everything in French whereas my daughter would speak franglais. Our daughter preferred communicating at any cost whereas my son wanted to communicate precisely in the correct language. He never mixed languages and still doesn’t; my daughter made up words based on both languages (like wa-leau for water and assit- for sit) but focused mostly on being understand. They are 7 and 4 now and are both fully bilingual and adhere to OPOL, but my son has a French accent in his English.
        That was a long example….I guess my advice is just to keep correcting them, be consistent, be supportive and understanding, and don’t give up! I think the worst part was my own frustration when they preferred French over English. If you check the archives of my blog (which I don’t keep up much anymore), you’ll find lots of posts about my daughter’s language development. It was a good way for me to document progress and to look back and say to myself, “wow, we’re doing really well!”

        Reply

        1. Sixtine et Victoire Post author

          Thank you for all these precious tips Reb! I read somewhere that children can’t master skills all at once. My daughter started walking at 10.5/11 months. Sixtine was mixing words a lot like your daughter at first ” chau-shoe” etc, now I find that the few words she say in French are pronounced with an English accent. I feel bad though because I speak much more English than I should. I have a lot of reading to do on your blog now!

          Reply

  4. Pingback: Teaching children a second language | Psychologymum

  5. Eline @ Pasta & Patchwork

    This is a great post and discussion!
    We’re a three-language family. My husband speaks English, I speak Dutch, and at nursery M hears only Italian. We thought long and hard about whether we should limit our home-language to English (I’m fluent in both Dutch and English) to make it less complicated, but we’ve decided to go for it in the end.
    M is only able to say about 10 words at the moment (he’s 12 months), but already we’ve noticed that he’s gone for the ones that are similar in Dutch and English. If there is any Italian, I’m not able to pick up on it yet.
    I’m so curious to see how he will develop and cope with it all. We will definitely have to bear point 8, “be flexible”, in mind! If we notice it’s not working out for him, we will change our strategy.

    Reply

    1. Judith (little bilingues)

      Hi Eline, thanks for your comment. I am promoting bilingualism so, of course, I think that you made a great choice. Bilingual education is a beautiful gift! However, no one should feel forced to raise children bilingually, you have to be sure it’s the right thing for your family and you, you can’t succeed if you’re not convinced and committed to it yourself. Eline, I also think #8 is essential, keep observing your son’s progress and reactions and try to adjust your strategy if needed. Good luck, I’m sure your son will pick up all 3 languages very quickly!

      Reply

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