Helping Your Child Become Bilingual

Patterns in Bilingual Language Acquisition

There are two major ways that a child can become bilingual: 1) simultaneous bilingualism, when the child is exposed to the two languages during the first three years of his life or 2) sequential bilingualism, when the child learns one language first and then later learns the second language. Both ways have been successful but no matter which way you decide to go, there are some suggestions that different authors make:

  1. Be consistent in how and with whom each language is used.
  2. Make sure there is enough language input so the child has the opportunities needed to learn the language. You might need to brainstorm ideas for activities to use the language and even develop a schedule for language use.
  3. Keep the grammar appropriate to the age of your child.

If you opt for sequential bilingualism, these are some tips that can make it easier.

  1. Start little by little. Be aware that your child might resist an abrupt change of language.
  2. Initially, you might be supporting understanding by translating, but the goal is to stop doing this little by little.
  3. Start speaking the language during chosen times or activities when you’re not rushed and there is plenty of extra time for explanations.
  4. Switch to reading simple books in the second language, simplifying and translating if needed. Books are a great way to teach new words.
  5. Gradually extend the amount of time you speak the language and add on resources and activities that your kids can do on the computer or TV, for example.
  6. Encourage your child to respond to you in the second language.
  7. Don’t give up! Remember, time is on your side. (Naomi Steiner, 2009)

Language Use Patterns

If you are going to raise your child bilingual, you will need to decide what role each parent and other adults in the child’s environment will play.

One Language – One Parent: (OPOL) Each parent speaks a different language to the child who responds in that language. For example, a Swedish father speaks to the child in only Swedish and the Dutch mother speaks to the child only in Dutch. The parents will then have to decide in which language they will talk to each other.

One thing that parents need to be aware of is that if the burden lies on one parent only for a language, that parent will have to make a strong, continuing commitment to keeping up the language.

Language Compartmentalization: The home language is used predominately at home. The other language is used outside the home (school, community, church, etc.) Or you devise a schedule so that the family speaks the second language on certain days of the week or for particular tasks, e.g. homework or at mealtimes.

Whatever you decide about how you will raise your child(ren) as bilingual, you need to realize that it is a long-term commitment that may never end!

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