Raising multilingual children is an admirable challenge—and one which lots of parents around Asia are rising to right now.
With babies starting to detect languages in the womb and growing up to solidify their linguistic skills by the age of six, it’s important to begin on their learning path as soon as you can.
But if you’re two parents who speak different languages, or you have an extended family with many native tongues, how do you juggle these within one household?
Here are some tips from June’s team of multicultural, multilingual parents to get you started:
One Person, One Language
Begin by assigning each adult a single language for speaking to your child and then know that everyone must stick to it.
You’ll be amazed by how quickly their minds will separate the sounds they hear and learn to respond to the correct person with the correct words.
It’s important not to slip out of this as it’s how your little one will be differentiating the languages.
Read, Read and Read Some More
Try to integrate language training into story time to encourage understanding and vocabulary.
If you read the same book in each language, you’ll find that your child will then see their books as bilingual.
You can even get some books that written in two languages in order to help train the brain.
Get Relevant Learning Material
As well as books, it’s fun to have songs, movies and toys in dual languages.
Music is one of the most entertaining and effective ways to teach little minds new words, so if you play music around the house be sure to take turns with the languages!
It’s all about engaging on your child’s level to make the learning process enjoyable.
Be Patient and Flexible
Patience and consistency are the keys to building a solid foundation with languages. Yet there must also be a degree of flexibility too.
If your teaching methods are too strict, your kids may reach a threshold where they refuse to speak.
You also need to learn to contain your frustration—as if you can’t speak the second language, it can be very limiting not to know what your partner and your child are saying to each other!
They will also appear to ‘mix up’ their languages too, but this is part of normal linguistic development and is not something to worry about.
Hold Your Ground
There may become a time when your child starts preferring one language to another, but don’t be tempted to give up! If you let it slip, they may lose it altogether. Using it regularly is a must.
It will be tempting around the dinner table for example to let one language win out, but you just have to roll with the linguistic chaos going on around you. It will feel like your child will hold more of the power if they’re understanding more than anyone else!
Make it Real
It’s all very well being multilingual in the home, but your little learner will have very little context unless they’re using it in the real world.
Try and find native language play groups for them, or baby play dates with your mother tongue.
And immerse yourself in the environment as much as possible—taking holidays in your respective countries to be surrounded by family or people who are normalizing the use of the language in daily life.
If you’re lucky enough to be in a position to raise multilingual children in your home, you are about to embark on a remarkable and rewarding journey.
It’s never too late to learn a language, but the early you start the easier it will be. Bonne chance!