“I don’t think I know my language well enough to teach it to my child”

If you are a parent and a second or later generation immigrant to a country you may have concerns about your own knowledge of the language you want to pass on to your children. Maybe the language use in the family while you were growing up wasn’t that consistent. After starting school you may have used it less and less. Now as an adult you may have the feeling that you don’t know the language well enough and perhaps you are not too sure what to do.

Have faith, my friends! You do not need to have perfect command of a language that you want to teach your child. Yes, initially your child may pick up some of your mistakes, but as long as you make sure that your child also spends time with other fluent speakers of the language, the mistakes will disappear. Soon enough, you will also find yourself corrected by your sweet little honey pie, who will get immense satisfaction from it. As your child’s language evolves, yours will improve as well.

Even though your language use may not be perfect, the exposure to it is crucial for your child’s learning. Experts say that for children to grow up to become bilingual, they need to be exposed to the language at least 20% (preferably 30%) of their waking time. This time includes being in a group where the language is spoken, watching TV programmes or DVDs, listening to stories or music and so on – it does not mean they have to be interactively using the language for all that time.

To increase the amount of exposure of a language, don’t be afraid to encourage other adults to use the language with your child (even if the others are also bilingual). Explain why you want them to speak your language and you will find that most people (especially grandparents) are more than willing to help. Be warned though, it will most likely take a few reminders from you, if they have already started speaking another language with your child. Switching the language you speak with someone – child or adult – is never easy.

Reading is an excellent way of supporting both your own and your child’s language. To a baby it does not really matter what you read: a magazine, cook book, your favourite novel or an article on renewable energy – you name it. Anything to get you into the habit of reading to your child is good. Later on you will notice that stories and fairy tales do keep children’s attention better, but make sure you choose ones you enjoy yourself as well, as you will be reading them over and over… and over again!

May the peace and power be with you!