This is the last post in my four-part A-B-C for parents in families with more than one language.
T is for Talk
Interaction is the key to learning a language. Talk a lot to your children. Ideally start before they are born – this way you get used to speaking your language with your children. When they are small babies, make it a habit to speak out loud about anything – what you are doing, what you are planning for the holidays, how it was when you were small, the list goes on … Once they learn to express themselves in words, encourage them by engaging them in discussions and asking questions. I believe children should be both seen and heard!
U is for Unanimous
It is important that parents are in agreement about the language goals for their children. Raising a bilingual child requires commitment and parents need each other’s support and encouragement. In families where one parent is passing on a minority language to the children, the role of the majority language parent is vital for a successful outcome.
V is for Visits
Visits to a place where a minority language of the family is the majority language of the society are great language boosters. Children acquiring more than one language when growing up may at some point stop speaking a language. There can be several reasons for this – a snide remark from someone, the need to fit in with peers and be just like everyone else or simply being surrounded by the majority language most of the day. If this happens, a holiday spent in the country where the language is the majority language is a great way of reviving the use of it.
W is for Word games
Word games are an excellent way of introducing new words and supporting verbal creativity. They often need no or very little “equipment” and can be played during car journeys, walks in the park or as a distraction when sitting in the dentist’s waiting room.
X is for eXtra effort
Sorry, the letter X is a bit of a cop-out – just couldn’t make a xylophone that central to language learning! However, extra effort is something that you will need to be prepared to put in when bringing up a bilingual child. You need to ensure that your children get the appropriate amount of exposure to each language. You will be on constant hunt for good quality books, magazines, comic books, games, films in each language. You should try to stay consistent in your own language use with your children and make efforts to pass on both culture and language. But by making a little extra effort early on you can achieve something that a couple of decades later would require significantly more effort from your child.
Y is for You
You, the parent, are the most important person in the world to your children. This goes for everything, including the languages they learn when they are small. By opting to pass on your language you are opening up so many more avenues for them, not only with regards to communication and other benefits, but also giving them a greater choice in where to study, work and live. Do give the gift of an additional language to your children – they will thank you for it later.
Z is for Zero
Zero is the amount of days I think you should wait before embarking on your quest to raise a bilingual child. Parents sometimes hesitate to introduce a second language, thinking they want their children to be fluent in one language before starting with the next. For a child acquiring one or two languages doesn’t make much difference, so the younger the child, the better. However it is never too late. Research has shown that children learning a language before the age of about six or seven will naturally have no accent in their language when they grow up. Making more than one language part of your family’s daily life will benefit your children in so many ways.