Raising bilingual children is one of the greatest challenges we face as parents when raising children away from our native country, but it's also an opportunity to open doors to new possibilities and enrich our children's lives. If you're interested in raising your children in a bilingual environment, this article is for you. I present ten tips that have worked for me in my experience as a mother of a bilingual child.
1. Start at an early age:This is essential since from infancy, even though they can't speak or understand what we're saying, they begin to connect their emotions and feelings with the words we use with them. The sooner you expose your child to two languages, the more natural it will be for them to learn both. My recommendation is to start speaking your language to them from when they are babies.
2. Establish routines in both languages:
Integrate both languages into your child's daily life. This can include nighttime routines, mealtime, or when visiting family and friends. It's very important that they associate specific activities and moments with one of the languages. For example, in my home, during mealtime and dinner, when we are all together, we decide to speak in Spanish. But when we go to the playground, we all speak Dutch.
3. Consistency is the key to success:
Consistency is key. Establish clear rules about when and where the languages are spoken, and make sure that all family members and caregivers involved follow the same rules. As parents, it can be very stressful and tiring, and there are times when we give in and speak the language that predominates in our child, but let's not punish ourselves for this; it can happen, and it's normal. Let's just be aware and try to get back to the routine as soon as possible.
4. Use resources and activities in both languages:
Provide books, television programs, games, and activities in both languages so that children are drawn to both. Our children should have the same amount of activities and resources in both languages so that they feel that balance, as presenting only one of the languages can make them feel it's an imposition, leading to rejection. At Gioqo, we offer educational toys to learn Spanish, French, Dutch, and German.
5. Promote active communication:Promote constant dialogue. Speaking and listening are fundamental skills for learning any language, and it's important to encourage active communication in both languages. Ask them about their interests, their school, listen to their stories without correcting them directly. If this happens, a good tool is to repeat what they said incorrectly in a correct way as an affirmation so they don't feel embarrassed.
6. Connect with the cultures of both languages through travel and traditions:
Traveling to places where both languages are spoken or participating in cultural events can help children see the relevance of speaking two languages. The most important thing is that this will create an emotional connection with the language, and the more positive it is, the easier they will find the love for learning. We can visit relatives, travel to celebrate holidays, but never force it, as it will have the opposite effect.
7. Don't worry about language mixing:It's common for bilingual children to mix words or phrases in both languages. This is normal and tends to decrease over time.
8. Don't force or push them to speak:The moment a child realizes that it's an obligation or feels pushed to do it, they will develop a negative connotation for that language and begin to reject it. It's normal that at certain ages, children reject one of the two languages, especially the one not spoken in their place of residence. But this is simply because of our social nature, wanting to be accepted in the society we live in. For example, in these rejection situations, I always tell my child with a lot of love and without getting angry, "Honey, if you don't want to speak Spanish right now, that's okay, but know that Mom will keep speaking Spanish to you because it's how I feel connected to my roots and who I am." It's a way to take control and take away the responsibility from them.
9. Be patient and flexible:Raising bilingual children can be a long, stressful process with many challenges. It's important to be patient and flexible in their language development. Each child is different and has their way of relating to the language, but consistency and love are the foundation of success. Remember that we teach more by example than by rules, so set an example and speak both languages as much as possible. Surrounding yourself with bilingual people is a good recommendation since they will see the benefits with their own eyes.
10. Celebrate their achievements:
Recognize and celebrate your child's achievements in both languages. No matter how big or small, words of encouragement will always motivate them. Never correct them in public or make fun of their accent or errors. This is one of the reasons they automatically reject it.
Raising bilingual children is a valuable investment in their future. By following these ten tips, you can help your children develop strong language skills in two languages, giving them an advantage in an increasingly globalized world. Patience, consistency, and support are key on this exciting bilingual journey. Let's show by example, love, and connection all the benefits of growing up with two languages and how this keeps us close to who we are.
With love Alejandra