Question

My wife and I live in Trinidad & Tobago (my wife is a native, I am German) and we now have a 10 month old that we want to raise bilingually. I speak to him exclusively in German and my wife in English, but I speak to her in English even when he is around. In your opinion, what are some things that we need to be aware of or that we should encourage him to do as he grows up if ultimately we want him to be fully proficient in both languages, that is to be able to speak, read and write at a high level.

Thank you.
Markus

Answer

Quite a large question there! I will give some tips and let others chime in with additional details as well. To address the first question of speaking English with your wife when your son is around, that’s completely fine. I would personally recommend staying in German when speaking to your son though, even if that means saying it in English once to your wife and then again in German to him when you’re having a conversation together. It’s not necessary, but you’re much more likely to see a better result. Many families I work with that get into the habit of speaking the majority language when together aren’t as successful at really building fluency in the minority language – in your case – German.

As for some things to be aware of to really ensure a high rate of success, here are my tips:
– Speak to your child exclusively in German, even when others around you are using a different language.
– Don’t answer your child if they speak to you in English. Wait until they say it in German and help them with the language to use if need be. If you set this boundary from the beginning, it’s much easier.
– Develop a love for reading in German. You will want to not only do a lot of reading together, but do some research on the best way to teach reading in German as your child moves into the reading age.
– Provide access to lots of different speakers through play dates, cultural celebrations, trips back home, talks with grandparents via the Internet, movies, music, etc.
– To really write and speak at a high level, he will need academic level language and exposure to topics, which takes years of often formal instruction (in the language not about the language). Look at setting up academic environments and joint activities to do at home, go on field trips, or enroll him in some kind of schooling – this could be dual immersion or just summer programs back home.

That should provide you with a good start. If you have any further questions, please let us know. Good luck!

Kind regards,
Nick

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