Jenna Francisco, an ESL Educator, recently published an article on our site about raising bilingual kids. Jenna not only talks the talk, but walks the walk – her kids are bilingual! This is something I always wanted to do, and am trying to catch up with our daughter, now.
Here are Jenna’s tips on raising bilingual kids…
Bring up teaching children to be bilingual and you are bound to hear something like “Little kids are just like sponges—they pick up languages so easily.” While it is true that the child’s brain is more capable of learning language than an adult’s and that they hold the special ability to learn a language as a native, it is actually quite difficult to raise a bilingual child. The reasons for this are that children are usually hesitant to actually speak one of the languages and will often drop the language in favor of the one that their peers speak. Also, while we adults know what a wonderful skill bilingualism is, children are not interested in having “skills.” Instead, they want what feels good and natural, so the main challenge is making the languages something that the child loves and won’t feel overwhelmed by having to deal with every day.
However, if you would like to raise a bilingual child, here are some tips based on linguistic research and my own experience raising two bilingual children.
Note: Normally when a child is bilingual, one language is dominant. This depends on many factors, especially where the child is living. I will refer to a “non-dominant language,” which means the language that the child receives less exposure to. Often the child does not receive equal input of the 2 languages. It is not, however, a “second language” because a second language refers to one learned after the first, whereas bilingual children normally learn the two languages simultaneously.
1) The most important factor in your child’s success is having a strong cultural connection to both languages.
Research in language acquisition has proven that a bilingual child has a cultural and emotional connection to both languages. A child who is being “taught” a language for which there is not a meaningful emotional connection will lose interest or rebel against the parents’ wishes. This is especially true when children start attending school and are surrounded by kids who don’t speak the non-dominant language.
One of the best ways to help your child’s language learning is to travel abroad and spend a good amount of time in the other country. My son understood Portuguese perfectly but did not start speaking until he had been in Brazil for 4 weeks when he was almost 3 years old. All of a sudden, it was like a floodgate was opened; the Portuguese just came pouring out, and he has been perfectly bilingual since.
Click through the top to read more of Jenna’s fantastic tips!