Steps to Raising a Multilingual Child

When you are raising your child to speak more than one language, it is important to know how to go about it.

I am PRO bilingualism and I know that many families have their success stories.  It is important to be aware of the things have worked to be successful, so here is a step by step guide, which I found well written by the Multilingual Children’s Association.

No matter what your motivation is, speaking two languages will benefit your children greatly. If your goal is raising a bilingual baby, you’ve got work to do! Mum loves best has a great way of teaching you to teach your child. Have a look in this link

Agree on multilingualism

Most families that have the opportunity to raise a bilingual or multilingual child can come to an agreement on whether to pursue it or not. But, sometimes people are worried that their partner will NOT be supportive of speaking the native language, as they might feel left out if they don’t speak that language or concerns if it’s good for the baby.  Wanting to speak to your child in your native language is something your child will benefit from. And in the meantime, your significant other may well come around. Some parents go off on the other extreme and speak a language that is not their mother tongue to a baby from birth, just to provide early language exposure. Luckily, most couples find a way that’s acceptable to all parties, as well as beneficial for the baby.

Know what to expect and when

Some people just want are happy to raise their child with one or more languages, however, it is important to know the milestones in case there are problems such as speech and hearing difficulties, one language lagging behind, or the child’s refusal to speak a language. These should NOT be signs to stop speaking the second language.

  • 0-12 months: The first year starts small, and is all about sounds. The early language milestones are virtually identical for all babies, regardless of the language or number of languages learned.
  • 12-24 months: The second year is all about words and linking words to objects. Just as with monolinguals, this is a highly individual phase. Be patient, and you will be richly rewarded with the first words — in one or several languages.
  • 24-36 months: Now your child is sorting out the grammar and increasing the vocabulary by leaps and bounds. Your child may be slightly delayed compared to monolingual peers going into the third year, but you’ll notice the gap closing quickly at the tail end.

How many languages?

Generally, the number of languages within the household is the number of languages baby gets on his plate, maybe with one extra. So, most parents who don’t speak a foreign language themselves typically don’t go beyond bilingualism for their child. On the other hand, when each parent speaks a different foreign language, they may venture for those two, the community language and possibly one more, i.e. four languages.

Decide on a Language System

Your family should discuss a few issues to make sure everyone is on the same page. Who should speak what language to a baby? The two most common and among the most successful are One Person One Language (OPOL) and Minority Language at Home (ML@H).

Don’t wait – Now is a perfect time!

The ideal time to start multilingualism is even before your baby is born. Only recently, with the help of modern technology, have researchers been able to actually see what’s going on inside the head of infants. As it turns out, a baby knows important things about language even before birth, and he gains fundamental verbal skills long before he utters his first word. So, as the brain is “primed” for the first three years of life with synapses at a peak, busily setting up the optimal neural pathways to mediate language.

Declare your intentions

Everyone will no doubt have an opinion before you start, but once you begin, they will just accept it. The best tactic is simply to not ask for support or approval from your friends and extended family.

Establish a support network

Get your support from others like you. Most things are more fun and rewarding if you share them with like-minded people. Not only do you have a peer group to discuss the art of raising multilingual children and benefit from the experiences of others, but you will build a network of other speakers of your minority language. Equally important, it gives your child the opportunity to hear, speak, and interact with other children in the minority language. This is an enormous motivator for them.

Get relevant materials

Having books, music, movies, and toys in your minority language is both fun and useful.

Set your goals, but be flexible

Unfortunately, there are many things that can undermine the best-laid language learning strategy. The most difficult ones include divorce or loss of a parent. Each situation has to be evaluated, but with flexibility, you can get back on track. It’s certainly not the end of the world if your child gets less exposure to the minority language for a period of time.

The dangerous threshold to avoid is the refusal to speak. In this situation, you’ll have to be creative and try to find increased exposure to the minority language. Whatever you do, keep your child in contact with the language in some way!

Have patience and keep going

Raising multilingual children does require patience, and there will no doubt be frustrating times. But, of course, parents of monolingual children experience frustration, too! Don’t worry if your child doesn’t speak his languages as quickly as his friends or with the same proficiency in all of the languages. Reality doesn’t always fit our plans. Focus on the success, marvel at what your child can do, and praise, praise, praise! Remember that if you don’t try, you don’t accomplish anything. Rest assured that when your child says, “I want a hug” in your own language, you’ll almost cry with pride. At that moment, it won’t matter that it took some extra effort or that you had to wait a bit for the result.

Raising a multilingual child is an immensely rewarding experience. Many of the world’s parents are raising their children with more than one language, so go for it!

Anna Biavati-Smith
Specialist Speech and Language Therapist
© Copyright 2017 All rights reserved.

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