10 things parents of bilingual children do differently

by | Jul 27, 2016 | Being the parent in a multilingual family, Practical advice | 1 comment

10 things parents of bilingual children do differently

As parents we want to do what’s best for our children – this affects how we behave in our everyday lives when it comes to choice of anything from food and clothing to school and the place we live in. In addition, parents of bilingual children have one more aspect to take into consideration: the languages our kids speak and how to maintain and boost them. This becomes especially prevalent during holidays.

1 – Talking more

We worry about the exposure time for the minority language, so in families with only one parent speaking the minority language, holidays is the time when he or she tries to talk and read as much as possible and about different topics with the kids.

2 – Picking a summer course

If we have a chance to send our children to a summer course, we always look for ways to boost the minority language as well. This becomes even more important if we do not have the chance to travel somewhere where the family’s minority language is spoken.

3 – Children’s playdates

As long as we are allowed to pick who our kids socialise with, we do our utmost to find other families with the same language combinations to find other children for our kids to chat with. If we find a family which has recently moved to the country, we are over the moon, as their kids will most likely still prefer to speak the minority language.

4 – Selecting what the kids watch

Especially if the weather is not that great during the holidays (although I do believe that “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing!”), the kids might end up watching more TV programs and online videos than normal. While we have heard that too much screen time is not good for our kids, we appease our conscience by picking programs in the minority language “At least they might pick up a word or two!”

5 – Choice of holiday destination

Multilingual families often have relatives in other countries and this means that the obvious choice of travel destination is to visit grandparents or other extended family members. Only few of us can take more than one trip a year (if even that), so when choosing where to go, we often forego what would be ‘sunniest’, ‘most exciting’ or ‘different from anything we have done before’. However, we do our very best to make our kids enjoy their holidays, as our desire is for them to want to come back again.

6 – When to travel

Closely related to the above, our relatives’ holidays affect when we travel. We know that being immersed in the language is a highly effective booster. We want our children to make the most of their stay and to spend as much time with cousins and other kids who speak the minority language as their main language. We plan ahead and book our trip for when they are off school as well. Not always possible, but we try.

7 – What kind of toys

When we get access to toys that “speak” our children’s minority language, we go wild. A cuddly toy singing lullabies in the right language is a real find (although, like any other parents, after having listened to them non-stop for months and months we may well regret our buy). If the family’s minority language has a different script or special characters, anything involving an alphabet is on the top of the shopping list, be it a puzzle, building blocks, picture books or a wall chart. Sometimes we do let our kids have a say as well.

8 – Being particular about books

We are also meticulous when purchasing minority language books for our kids. What looks most interesting is not always our first criteria, instead we check whether the book was originally written in the minority language, as this is our preferred choice above translations. It is not that we mistrust translations, but we want to make sure that the books also convey the correct cultural message, we want it to be the “real thing”.

9 – Keeping old magazines

You buy a magazine, read it, and after a while, you throw it away (or preferably recycle it) – that is the normal lifecycle of a magazine. Not for parents of bilingual children though – we keep the magazines and even carry them home from holiday. They are excellent for rereading, spotting new words, learning new phrases, and once they disintegrate due to the frequent use, we cut out words and pictures for collages and other crafts.

10 – Recording grandparents

We love watching our kids intently listen to their grandparents, aunts, uncles or elder cousins read for them in the minority language. We know how important it is that our children hear different people speak the language and want to savour and save this moment. What do we do? We ask if we can record the story time to play it again to our kids when we come home.

What do you do differently because of the languages you have in your family?

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