“We are expecting a baby and would want her/him to become bilingual. What are the things we should consider and what could we do in preparation for our new arrival?” This is something parents-to-be often ask me, so for this month’s Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival, I decided to place the question to the blogger community: “What should you do if you are expecting a bilingual baby?” (note: with ‘bilingual’ I refer to someone who can speak more than one language, i.e. can be two, three, four …) I am so impressed with all the fantastic posts I have received and thoroughly enjoyed reading them all!
1. Baby’s name
Choosing a name for your child is rarely easy, throw in another culture and it gets even trickier then add one or even several more languages into the mix and you have a real conundrum on your hands! I was not surprised that so many bloggers have chosen to write about this topic.
First of all, like Ilze from Let the Journey Begin writes in Multilingual Troubles: How to Choose a Baby Name?, the name “has to work equally well in both languages”. To give herself and her husband an extra challenge she also wanted her kid “to have a Latvian name day” and then there was the small matter of a Chinese middle name to be fitted in!
Leanna from All Done Monkey clearly put a lot of thought into her baby’s name as she wrote a two part series on the topic: The Name Game: Naming Baby in a Bilingual Household – Part 1 & Part 2. For Leanna and her husband it was important to choose a name “that wouldn’t sound “weird” in either language, and it needed to be something relatives on both sides could pronounce” and it should also sound nice with their surname. Leanna also shares many other multilingual and multicultural families’ stories in her posts.
Olga from The European Mama wanted a name “that could be pronounced and spelled the same way in Polish and German”, it would have to “sound nice”, preferably “have a meaning” and not be “too weird or too popular”. She also quite rightly points out that it is your choice after all, and that “you can give your child an original name without having to explain this to your family”.
Even with all the “prerequisites” for the new baby’s name – you will and should choose the one you like. In her post That’s not MY name Annabelle from The Piri-Piri Lexicon states that all parents “end up going with something that they like regardless of any pronunciation issues”. (She also makes a really good point about some countries having approved names, so make sure to check this to not have your chosen name rejected when you inform the authorities about it.) I would like to end this topic with Annabelle’s wise words “Whatever you choose, you will never be able to please everybody. Make sure you please yourselves first!”
2. Where to turn for advice on raising bilingual children
Especially first time parents end up reading lots of books to prepare themselves for the huge task that is parenthood. The aspect of raising a bilingual child is no different. In her post Expecting a multilingual baby! Esther from Third Culture Mama lists the ones she read and how she found them.
(I can of course not miss out on this opportunity to mention my own book “Bringing up a Bilingual Child – Navigating the 7 Cs of Multilingual Parenting”, an easy-to-read guide for mums and dads who want to pass on a family language to their children.)
Both Esther and Ana from PreK12Plaza mention the importance of joining communities of other parents raising bilingual children. These can be online or, even better, in real life! Esther says that the smartest thing she did was to “join an online multilingual forum as observer” and that she found herself reading “articles and answers to questions she hadn’t ever considered”. In her post Expecting four bilingual babies, Ana describes how a “group of local Latina comrades” came to her rescue when her son was struggling with his multilingual and multicultural identity.
I am sure you already have your favourite blogs you follow (I hope you are reading one of them now!), but if you are on the look-out for more after visiting all the blogs in this post, check out this impressive list for more blogs on the aspect of raising children to speak more than one language.
3. Choice of language
The obvious thing you have to do is to choose the languages your child will learn. If you have several languages in the family, this choice may not always be straight-forward.
In her post Are 3 (or more) languages too many for a child? Preparing for a baby’s arrival Annabelle decribes how she had to convince her husband of the benefits of three languages for their child: “He asked me to show him that 3 languages were NOT too many (he wanted science)”. As she found out, this evidence was hard to find, so he just had to go along with it as their “baby would, otherwise, not understand his grandparents.” A very good reason indeed!
Of course, it may be a given which languages you want for your child, but others may not always agree as was the case for Ana when the “sweet Italian grandma” sent her all the articles she could find on how it could be bad for the child to become bilingual (all myths, by the way!)
All bloggers agree about the importance of passing on a minority language if you can – some have even taken on the big and admirable task of teaching their children a language which is not their own native one.
Audrey from Españolita…¡Sobre la Marcha! has always loved Spanish and although it was not her native language, she wanted her baby’s “mother tongue” to be Spanish. “I made a commitment to my daughter: ‘I promise to be your mamá.’ That meant the language of love that I would I give E. would not be the same that had shaped me as a child.” she lovingly writes in her post Libros, Lullabies, and the Language of Parenting.
In his post Being a Bilingual Parent Jonathan from Dad’s The Way I Like It describes how he and his wife decided to bring up their son to speak Welsh, because they wanted “for Welsh and English to be part of his upbringing so he could be fluent in both the native languages of Wales and become aware of the importance of both within Welsh culture.”
4. Plan ahead
Several of my blogger friends mention the importance of planning ahead and I could not agree more!
Galina from Raising a Trilingual Child describes the two main strategies for bringing up a baby to speak more than one language: One person – one language (OPOL) and Minority language at home (mL@H) in her post Language Strategies.
In her post Family Language Plan: When and why? Eowyn from On Raising Bilingual Children emphasizes the value of putting together a plan and modifying it depending on the circumstances: “The process of creating a family language plan helps parents consider their options, prioritize, and take the necessary steps to reach their goals.”
Involving the extended family in the plan is, as Annabelle points out, an important part of your plan – prepare them for what languages you want them to speak with your child and perhaps also what kind of gifts would be useful (check out the next topic). She also mentions another practicality to consider: which daycare option to choose and reminds us to ask the all-important question “How do you feel about multilingual children?”
Books, toys, music, children’s rhymes, lullabies … the more resources you can gather before your baby arrives, the better. Make sure to include them in baby-shower/birthday/holiday wish lists!
Audrey describes how she had to learn new words and lullabies to prepares herself for being a Spanish-speaking mamá and Jonathan has done the same for Welsh. I would have loved to see the other drivers faces if they ended up hearing him sing Welsh lullabies at the top of his voice while driving to work!
A fantastic kids’ world map poster, bilingual picture books, first 1000 word picture book, classics in minority language and a few music CDs in the minority language are on Esther’s list of essentials for the little bilingual-to-be.
In my post I have given some ideas on where to find resources in your language.
6. What to expect
Adam from Bilingual Monkeys writes about the realities especially minority language parents will have to face in his post Warning to New Parents Who Dream of Raising a Bilingual Child: do not assume it will be easy and make sure your child gets enough exposure to your language!
Many parents are very keen on understanding how soon their children can be expected to express themselves in the different languages – in her post Multilingual Babies Language Development Maria from Trilingual Mama describes her own son’s progress in his languages and also gives a list of websites where you can find more information on the topic.
Generally, I would say that parents to bilingual children may find that they need a bit more patience than those with monolingual kids when waiting for longer phrases to be uttered. Not to forget: a dozen more things parents of bilingual children need to know.
7. Useful tips from experienced parents
Hindsight is a wonderful thing – and it really is, if you share your insights with others who are yet to have the experience you have just
muddled through masterfully succeeded with. Don’t miss these excellent lists of tips from mums that have been there, done that and washed the T-shirt.
I love all of Esther’s tips, especially #1 “The multilingual journey is commonsense: input should be consistent and plentiful, there must be a need for output, don’t give too much clout to the Debby Downers, it helps to have a supportive partner.”
Ana’s list of 10 secrets she wishes somebody had told her starts with an excellent piece of advice: “The earlier you start, the better. Don’t wait until he/she starts talking or until you stop traveling or until you win the lottery … Just start now!”
Marianna from Bilingual Avenue has a list of tips they were given in her post 5 Tips we received while preparing for our first multilingual child Love #3 “Turn off the noise. We agreed to remind ourselves along the way to disregard the well-meaning yet negative advice about multilingualism.”
In her post “Raising Bilingual / Multilingual child. Where to start?” Galina gives five great tips, one of them the crucial piece of advice to “discuss your ideas with your partner. It is important to do as you might discover that your partner has a different view.”
“Speak to the bump!” is one of my tips – especially if you will be speaking a language which you do not normally speak at home.
8. What would the baby say?
I will finish with Adam’s brilliant post “I Want to Be Bilingual”: Letter from a Newborn Baby which really says it all!
This post has been a delight to write and I am over the moon that there are so many of us spreading the word about the benefits of bilingualism to our children. A big thank you to all my fantastic blogger friends for their contributions – this is the list of all the writers and the languages their children are growing up with:
Adam from Bilingual Monkeys
– Japanese, English
Ana from PreK12Plaza
– Spanish, Italian, English
Annabelle from The Piri-Piri Lexicon
– French, Portuguese, English, German
Audrey from Españolita…¡Sobre la Marcha!
– Spanish, English
Eowyn from On Raising Bilingual Children
– French, English, Dutch
Esther from Third Culture Mama
– French, English, (Mandarin Chinese)
Galina from Raising a Trilingual Child
– Russian, English, Italian
Ilze from Let the Journey Begin
– German, Latvian, English
Jonathan from Dad’s The Way I Like It
– Welsh, English
Leanna from All Done Monkey
– Spanish, English
Maria from Trilingual Mama
– Spanish, French, English
Marianna from Bilingual Avenue
– Spanish, English, German
Olga from The European Mama
– Polish, German, Dutch
and myself, Rita, from Multilingual Parenting
– Swedish, Punjabi, Finnish, English