The custom is to make resolutions for the new year, but as we all know, most of them fall by the wayside well before the shops start stocking chocolate for Valentine’s Day. As a parent of a bilingual child, what could you do instead? My advice is to forget about resolutions and think more about habits. A habit is not as onerous as a resolution. With a resolution, if you fail once, you have broken the promise you made and that’s it – the resolution has melted away to the taste of the chocolate in your mouth. With a habit you can just pick it up again and keep going. That means less pressure, which can only be good for parents, especially when it comes to something like bringing up bilingual children. Here are five habits for you to implement into your daily life throughout the year – if you already have these habits, treat yourself to a … nice fruit salad!
1. Have patience
It takes time to create something great – it might sometimes feel that your little one takes far too much time to utter those first words in your language, puts a sentence together or knows which word belongs to which language. Learning a language, never mind two or three languages, is actually a humongous task and we are all different. Your child (like my younger daughter) might belong to those who need to take more time to get ready to speak. If you are truly concerned, speak to a language therapist who is used to dealing with bilingual children.
Also remember to have patience on those days when you think that you are not on track with your language plan for your kids. It is not a personal attack on you if they respond in the “wrong” language, nor does it mean that they have given up on the language. Circumstances change and it is important that you change with them if need be – by increasing the amount of language exposure, staying even more consistent or asking for others’ help.
Make patience a habit.
2. Give positive feedback
Show your appreciation when your child makes progress in speaking you language. Make it clear how happy it makes you that you can communicate in your language. Try not to let your feelings come to the surface at those moments when you feel that all is not going as well as you would like.
Find out what spurs your child on and use this to your advantage when coming up with rewards for sticking to your language. I know you can not bribe your way through the learning phase, but it may well make some sticky situations easier to overcome.
Make giving positive feedback a habit.
3. Keep reading
Read those bedtime stories and make sure you have a lot of reading material easily available. When you feel you have read all the books you have more often than there are pages in them, look for on-line stories. It might not always be easy or cheap to get hold of books in your language if you live far away from where the language is spoken, but you can always find stories on-line.
You can also ask others for help with the reading. Arrange Skype sessions with the grandparents (or other relatives or friends) during which they read different books – maybe some that they remember from their childhood.
Make reading a habit.
4. Chat away
Talk to your child – get used to speaking to your baby about everything that you are doing. Ideally start this habit already before your future bilingual is born (be prepared for some odd looks if you do it out in the public, though). Speak about anything, be it chores, gardening, shopping, holiday plans or the neighbour’s cat.
Some research has found that chatting a lot to your child can be equally effective as reading when it comes to language and general cognitive development. So especially on those days when you know there will be no chance for a story time, make sure that you chat away throughout the day.
Make chatting to your child a habit.
5. Have more fun
Associating your language with fun things to do will be a strong motivating factor for your child to learn it and keep on speaking it. Establish routines when you play certain games only in your language, or weave word play exercises into your daily life.
Make having more fun a habit.
What are your best habits when it comes to bringing up a bilingual child?