Today I am starting a four part A-B-C for all you parents passing on your languages to your children – or maybe you are planning to do so, but haven’t quite made up your mind yet.
A is for Advantages
The list of benefits that accompanies being bilingual is long, ranging from the obvious one of being able to communicate with more people to more surprising ones to do with health, such as being able to stave off dementia on average 4.5 years longer than monolinguals of the same age.
B is for Bilingual
Your aim should be for your children to grow up to become active bilinguals, i.e. that they can both understand and speak your language. Someone who only understands a language, but is unable to speak it, is called a receptive or passive bilingual.
C is for Consistency
Research has shown that children in families where the parents are consistent about their language use are more likely to become fluent speakers of both the languages. Consistency can also be achieved by choosing a specific space or time for a certain language.
D is for Doubts
Once you have decided to raise a bilingual child you will come across those who question your decision. Some may (incorrectly) think that you are doing your children a disfavour by “burdening” them with an additional language. Others will try to tell you that it is never going to work. Stay strong and stick to your decision! The same goes when you have doubts about your own ability – ask for advice and support to help you stay on track – you will receive it.
E is for Exposure
For your children to acquire your language you need to ensure they get enough exposure to it. Ideally children should be exposed to a language for at least thirty per cent of their waking time to pick it up. Most of this time should consist of interactive use of the language. Your children will not learn by sitting alone watching a DVD in your language.
F is for Fluency
It is important to reflect on how fluent you want your children to become in your language. Do you want them to be able to speak as natives or are you happy as long as they are able to comfortably communicate in it? Do you want them to be able to read and write? The more fluent you want your children to be, the more attention you need to pay to how much exposure they are getting to it, and the more effort you will have to put in yourself.