By Yana Schottenstein
Thanks to modern conveniences like efficient international travel and the World Wide Web, the world has never been more connected. Technological advances like email, video chatting, and social media make communication between countries quick and easy. Hourly international flights transform a once month-long journey into a trip that lasts mere hours. With a virtually shrinking world comes an increased merging of cultures and, as cultures intertwine, bilingual families are born. However, bilingual families deal with questions and situations that most monolingual families don’t, the most prevalent of which is the issue of raising bilingual children. While there is no one correct way to raise bilingual kids, there are some practices that help.
When it comes to raising a bilingual child, the rumors precede the truth in many cases. Many people incorrectly believe that, if a child is raised bilingual, educational or developmental delays are inevitable. Multiple studies have disproven this rumor, as it has been found that there are rarely, if ever, delays in bilingual children. In fact, bilingual children have many intellectual benefits. Studies have shown that bilingual children are forced to use and simultaneously strengthen parts of their brains that monolingual children might not often use. Moreover, learning two languages can be beneficial in adult life as well, as it can help delay or prevent memory loss.
Another popular myth about teaching children two languages is the possibility of confusion. Some caregivers worry that, when teaching a child two languages, they might become confused and mix up the languages, thus learning neither of the languages properly. However, this has also proven to be false, as it’s been found that, even at a young age, children are able to differentiate between most languages.
The most important part of raising a bilingual baby is dedication. If you sincerely want your child to speak two languages, you have to dedicate yourself and your child to the task. It would be a good idea to set up a schedule when exposing children to different languages. To ensure proficiency, children must get equal exposure to both languages. To keep exposure regular, you could employ the method where one parent or caregiver speaks one language, while the other parent or caregiver speaks the other language.
In order for this method to be successful, the child would have to spend an equal amount of time with both caregivers. If one caregiver works long hours or spends many hours away from home, the child might have more difficulty with that language. Another popular schedule is when families decide to speak one language at home, and one language in public. For example, children would speak English at school and with friends, and would speak the second language at home with family. Executing a regular schedule is an important part of raising bilingual children.
Speak to your children in both languages as often as possible and as early as possible. By introducing your child to both languages at a young age, they will most likely grasp and understand the language quicker. In addition to speaking to your children in both languages, try to read to them as well. By reading to them in various languages, you are exposing your children to aspects of the languages that might not come up in everyday conversation. While it’s important to keep the conversation regular, try not to speak broken languages to your children. If so, they are more likely to repeat the broken language and fail to become proficient in that language.
Children respond well to games and activities, so teaching tricky aspects of both languages in the form of games or activities can be fun and successful for you and your children. Incorporating learning into games is an effective way for your kids to have fun while also getting practice with the language. Games and activities are especially beneficial for aspects of the language that children might not get much exposure to in everyday conversation.
When raising a bilingual child, it is important for them to get as much practice as possible in both languages. Typically, the child will speak a dominant language at school, thus giving them less time to practice their second language. If this situation sounds familiar, try to give your child some extra opportunities to practice both languages. If they speak one language at school or with friends, find time to talk only in the other language. If other relatives speak the non-dominant language, have your child reach out to them. Talking with family in their language not only gives your child necessary practice, but ties them closer to family as well.
Yana Schottenstein, the founder of Access 2 Interpreters, contributed content to this article. Access 2 Interpreters is a leading translation and interpretation company in Columbus, Ohio, USA.
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