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Those who have been following me for a while know that my native language is French and that’s the target language for my son. Bilingual parenting and becoming bilingual is something that can be achieved easily(I use this term loosely), and I am living proof of that. My son has been learning French passively and has been fluent in English and Korean since he was younger. His bilingual development took a lot of hard work to achieve but now he’s fully bilingual and we are aiming for trilingualism. 

Parents must expend a lot of time and effort learning with their children in order to help them learn a new or foreign language. Cue! Bilingual Parenting… Trilingual Parenting…

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“Doesn’t he speak Korean? Can he communicate in English? I see you’re also teaching him French, right? It must be rather confusing for him. Why are you stressing him at a young age? French, you say? When will he need that?” You’ll frequently hear these sorts of remarks. You’ll hear them from your barista at Starbucks, your mother-in-law, your neighbors, and even strangers on the street. 

As a trendsetter, you’ll ruffle some feathers, and the best way to handle unwanted advice (other than fleeing) is to get educated.

common myths about raising bilingual kids

boys, kids, children with a globe
Learning a language is a lifetime dedication

1-Learning multiple languages at once can be confusing for your child

There is a great deal of disagreement on this issue, even among scientists, and in monolingual countries. Your child’s little mind has more than enough neurons firing to handle two languages (or even more) without frizzing out. 

For decades, numerous studies have shown multilinguals to be cognitively advantaged. What about the experience of millions of families where multilingualism is normal, not exceptional? Take Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, and Finland, for example, where bilingual parenting is the norm.

 I was raised in a French household in Ottawa, Canada, and I attended all French schools, but most of the music and TV I consumed was English. I have been bilingual since I can remember, and I’m now intermediate in the Korean language as well. 

2-Two Languages is doable but more than two is overdoing it!

Babies learn a lot of information in their first few years of life, so learning a different language really isn’t too much of a burden. The reason for this is that a two-year-old child has fifty percent more synapses than an adult. Even if your child does not learn all of the languages, do not underestimate the value of knowing one passively.

 Synapses (connections between neurons) are what enable one to understand a language but not yet speak it, which means learning a language later in life or in school is much easier if one already understands it. If you already understand a language, learning it later in life or as an adult is much simpler than if one has never heard it before (Mikheeva, 2011). Because there’s no harm in understanding another language, it is certainly something worthwhile.

3-Your child is going to get these languages all mixed up

Plenty of mixing will occur, but it is both harmless and temporary. This phenomenon disappears as the child builds his vocabulary in each language. How many children learn correct usage and automatically fix mistakes? Most…

Children begin by saying things like “me want” when they mean “I want”. How many of them are still saying “me want” at five years old? Not many or none…

It is simple for a multilingual child to acquire proper expression the same as any other child. Incorporating bilingual parenting will be beneficial if you don’t combine and mix languages in your own dialogue and it will be simpler for your child to remain consistent as well.

 It is tough to get rid of my French Canadian usage of ‘Frenglish'(French/English) because both languages are so closely linked in our society. When speaking in Korea, many people have the Konglish syndrome, combining both Korean and English. I view this as an advantage since the speaker usually knows both languages. It is enviable to many, as the speaker can easily change from one language to another.

4-Why start now? He can pick it up later on when he’s older

There are those who say that learning multiple languages is not difficult, and there are those who disagree.  Some say “Just go to a French playgroup one day a week. Even if you don’t speak it to him all the time, you don’t need to constantly speak to him in French.” This is not possible, according to studies. 

Children must be exposed to a different language around one-third of their waking hours to become actively bilingual. They may learn a lot with little verbal communication, but they will not be able to speak it. 

It is relatively easy for children to learn a second language, but a child must hear a word thousands of times in a variety of situations before it sticks unless it is a curse word, in which case you merely need to say it once. That itself is a whole other blog post.

language spelled out of black board
Bilingual Children

5-Some kids struggle to master reading and writing in just one language!

Many children already have problems with reading and writing properly in their own language so how could they process all the extra information from a different language?  However,  this process is not linked to the number of languages a child speaks, it could also include multiple alphabets, which would make it slightly more difficult and thus thrust him into understanding the language better.

Children who speak multiple languages may better understand the nature of language itself, which in turn improves their overall literacy skills. Research supports what many parents have long believed: that multilingual and bilingual children have greater linguistic competencies.

However, if you are in a rush or find that politely ignoring groundless opinions is not effective, you can always ask if Einstein’s intelligence suffered as a result of growing up with both German and Italian. Moreover, he didn’t begin speaking until he was three years old, but he certainly made up for the lost time.

Tactical Tips!

1. Bilingualism Doesn’t Happen Automatically

Contrary to the popular belief that children effortlessly acquire languages, bilingualism requires conscious effort. While children may naturally pick up the family languages in the right environment, it cannot be taken for granted. It is crucial for parents to be proactive in fostering bilingualism in their children. And a great way to introduce a new language to young children is to now! Don’t wait. 

2. Develop a Plan

To increase the chances of successfully raising bilingual children, it is important to create a plan. Determine the level of fluency you desire for your child, including reading and writing skills. Discuss language usage within the family and agree on the goals. Having a clear plan will provide a roadmap for your bilingual parenting journey. Examples are getting the entire family involved on designated days of the week for that ‘language.’ To boost your child’s bilingualism why not listen to a bilingual parenting podcast? 

++ The importance of music! Wow, to get some new vocabulary on a daily basis listen to a little bit of music in the target language. It’s great for a non-native speaker and young kids will absorb the lyrics easily.  Get a YouTube channel in the desired language and let it play during breakfast time. It works at our house. It’s all about the little things you do daily to get your child closer to his/hers language goals.

3. Consistency is Key

Consistency plays a crucial role in raising bilingual children. Once you have established your plan, it’s important to commit to it as a family. Consistently using the designated languages with your child will create a strong language foundation and reduce the risk of them favoring the majority language. It’s the easiest way to get things rolling…

4. Pay Attention to Exposure Times

Exposure to each language is vital for language acquisition. Experts recommend that children be exposed to a language for at least 30% of their waking time to naturally become bilingual. However, this guideline should be taken as a rough estimate, as the amount of exposure required may vary depending on the type of exposure and the child’s individual needs.

5. Dedicate Time and Resources

Raising bilingual children requires investment in terms of time and resources. Parents should prioritize spending quality time engaging in conversations, reading, and finding language-learning resources. It may even involve using vacation time to visit countries where the target language is spoken, providing immersive experiences for your child.

6. Overcoming Doubters

It is not uncommon for others to question the benefits or feasibility of raising bilingual children. Some may believe it won’t work or that it will confuse the child. It’s important to ignore these doubts and stay focused on the long-term advantages of bilingualism. Educate others about the benefits and reassure them that raising bilingual children is a valuable endeavor.

7. Be Cautious of Bad Advice

Occasionally, professionals may advise parents to stop speaking a particular language to their children. In such cases, it is important to seek expert advice from speech therapists with knowledge in bilingual language development. Don’t let misguided advice deter you from your goal of raising bilingual children.

8. Prepare for Challenges

The journey of raising bilingual children may present various challenges. From doubters to unexpected life circumstances, it’s important to stay determined. By seeking advice and support from other bilingual families, you can navigate these challenges and maintain your commitment to bilingualism.

9. Responding in the “Wrong” Language

Parents may experience disappointment when their child suddenly responds in the majority language instead of the target language. However, it is crucial to remain consistent and increase exposure to the minority language. Over time, the child will regain fluency and respond in the desired language.

10. The Benefits of Bilingualism

Raising bilingual children offers numerous benefits. Bilingualism enhances communication skills, strengthens family bonds, and broadens cultural understanding. Bilingual children also have cognitive advantages, such as improved problem-solving skills and enhanced creativity. The long-term value of bilingualism is well worth the effort.

11. No Regrets

Parents who commit to raising bilingual children rarely regret their decision. On the other hand, many adults express regret for not being taught their parents’ native language. By providing your children with the gift of bilingualism, you are setting them up for a lifetime of linguistic and cultural advantages.

12. Pride in Achievement

As your children start speaking their heritage languages fluently, you will experience immense pride. Watching them communicate effortlessly with grandparents, extended family members, and other native speakers is a rewarding experience. Your determination to raise bilingual children will serve as an inspiration to other families embarking on a similar journey.

Conclusion

I know what you’re going through. Your child’s bilingual ability will depend greatly on how much effort is put into it daily. It’s a learning process. My son has been proficient in both Korean and English since he started speaking, and now he is studying French passively (as mentioned above) to boost his minority language.

Learning a language is a lifelong effort. When they are young, they are sponge-like and don’t realize they are ‘learning.’ When the older children work on second language acquisition, it gets a little hard. But, it’s very doable.

So, bilingual parenting should start now if you want your youngster to be bilingual or even multilingual. They’ll be thankful in the future!

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