Like any other “project” in your life, bringing up your son to become bilingual is much more likely to have a successful outcome if you plan ahead. You may ask: “Why do I need a plan? I grew up to become bilingual without anyone making a plan for me!”
This is true – I too acquired my initial languages without anyone giving it a second thought. So why do I now say that you need a plan? If you have been reading my blog before, you know that I think every child that grows up in a multilingual family should be given the gift of becoming bilingual. I have however noticed that this is by far not always the case.
I have seen migrant families where from one generation to the next the language of their native country goes from being the main language of the family to being only a passive language for the children. I have heard many children of such families express their regret that they didn’t get used to speaking their family’s native language when they were young. We all know how much more effort it takes to learn a language as a grown-up. Sorry, if I sound like a broken record, but I truly believe that any parent that can give their child the benefit of an additional language should do their best to accomplish this.
What do you need for your plan? First you need to know where you are heading – how fluent do you want your son to be? Do you want him to be able to read and write your language as well? Reading is very beneficial to a child’s language development, so I would strongly recommend that you include at least reading into your plan.
Once you have decided the level of fluency you want for your son, you need to take stock of how much exposure he gets to each language. Ideally he should be exposed to each of the languages you want him to learn for at least 30% of his waking time. I know it can be done with less, but if this is the case you need to make sure that the exposure mostly consists of interactive exposure. With this I mean that he needs to be participating in the communication, combining the language with actions – note that for this he doesn’t yet need to be able to speak.
You should also take stock at regular intervals – is your son happy to keep on speaking the language or is the language pattern changing? If there is a risk of him dropping the language, find ways to encourage him back on the right track.
Plan to succeed and you will succeed with your plan!