Raising a Bilingual Child: 8 Tips
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Look for outside support to keep you going.
As with any important and long-term parenting goal, support is necessary and crucial when teaching your child a second language. Weekend language schools, tutoring, and play groups can help you connect with other families who are raising their children to speak your language and help up the "language input." If you are less than fluent in the second language, it is also important to recognize that you'll need more outside support to boost your child's second-language learning. The good news is it's easy to find that support in the area. Just think of all the different cultures and languages that are right outside your door.
Write down a "weekly bilingual plan."
When setting your bilingual goals for your child, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the more intensive and extensive the language "input," the faster your child is going to learn the language and the higher the proficiency level he will reach. Having a "weekly bilingual plan" that lists different types of activities you'll do in your language, such as reading to your child, watching a movie, or playing a computer game, and when you'll do them, helps you ensure that your child gets the right amount of language input to match your bilingual goals.
Take advantage of the Internet.
One can literally get lost in the array of bilingual resources available on the Internet, from buying books to playing online games. Of course, it's recommended that parents limit their children's screen time, and that they carefully monitor what their children are doing while on the web. Try visiting the webpage of the public television station in the country where your second language is spoken. Like our PBS, it probably offers free, age-appropriate, educational yet fun activities for kids.
Parents often want to know what they should do when their bilingual child hits school, particularly middle or high school, which is where the more rigorous foreign language instruction is typically offered. At this point a child who has already been speaking a second language for several years will probably be too advanced to benefit from the basic instruction offered in that language at school, so she should probably choose a different language. Not to worry — not only will your child be able to manage a third language, but studies show that bilingual children learn a third language even more easily than monolingual children learn a second one.
Parents who take the plunge and raise their child bilingual find it is so much more than teaching their child to speak, read, and write in two languages. It's a family adventure, a gift that you are passing on to your child, and an opportunity for her to learn about another culture and be proud of her identity. It's a fabulous and enriching journey. Enjoy it!
NAOMI STEINER, M.D., who is multilingual herself and raising her two children multilingual, is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. SUSAN L. HAYES is a fulltime writer and editor in Brooklyn. They are the authors of 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child (Amacom, 2009).