Saturday, July 7, 2018

How to Raise a Bilingual Child

So you wanna teach your kid another language, but you’re kinda intimidated because you don’t think you have the skills. Well, I’m no a right-brained linguist and English is definitely my native tongue, so keep reading to find out how I’m casually raising my kids to be bilingual.

How I Heard About Bilingualism

Okay, full disclosure: I learned Chinese from my parents growing up. But they were pretty lax about making me speak it, and once I started school, it wasn’t really a priority. Speaking Chinese to them was super slow and cumbersome, so I just used English with them. Fast-forward to adulthood: I’m married with no kids. I have a conference call with a coworker who happened to be working from home that day. Suddenly she says, “Hold on a second” and then proceeds to yell across the house at her children in rapid fire Spanish. What the… my coworker is a white, blonde woman and her Spanish has a definite, heavy American accent. Still, I’m impressed. What’s going on here?

How to Teach Your Kid a Second Language

Tip 1: My coworker proceeds to tell me the simple secret to raising bilingual kids: You only use the foreign language to speak to your child and they are only allowed to speak back to you in that language. So when my kids slip up and use English with me, I say in Chinese, “Huh? What is this 'pancake' you speak of?” and basically make them repeat it to me in Chinese. Or I teach them the Chinese word if they don’t know. “Ohhh, you're referring to ‘song bing’.”

Tip 2: Start when they’re babies because kids are total sponges. None of my children ever had noticeable speech delays from learning a foreign language. So even if you’re not great at Spanish after taking 8 years of classes, that’s okay because with babies, you’re just pointing at things and saying simple phrases. Like, the English equivalent would be “Look, it’s a dog! See the dog? Such a good dog. Want to pet the doggy?” And since you’re starting off slow, eventually always using Spanish with your kid will become habit.

Tip 3: If you have multiple kids, try to get them to use the foreign language to talk to each other, at least when you’re around. My younger brother’s Chinese ain’t so good because, well, I only spoke English around him when he was born, sooo he was kinda doomed. Now I tell my son all the time, “If you don’t speak Chinese to your sister, she’s never gonna learn it! We’re, like, her only sources of Chinese, so come on… help a girl out.”

Tip 4: If you want to pass on multiple languages, you can do things like assign each spouse a different language that they teach, or designate certain times of the day to Russian only, Korean only, etc.

What If I’m Monolingual?

Some of you might be thinking, “Multiple languages?? I only speak one! What do I do now?” Well, while listening to French songs or watching kids movies in Spanish may help, studies have shown that conversations with a native speaker does wonders, especially if it’s daily. So check out this list of options for you to consider:
  • Use a native-speaking caretaker (like a nanny or family member)
  • Hire a tutor (I’ve practiced Chinese with kids in their homes as my side hustle)
  • Enroll them in language classes or send them to an immersion school
  • Attend cultural meetup groups and organize playdates with native speakers’ kiddos
  • If you have the money, travel to that foreign country during summer breaks. You’ll be amazed at how fast they learn, especially if no one around them understands English.

Obstacles to Bilingualism

I’m not going to lie: it’s an uphill battle. People talk about how great it is knowing multiple languages, but it takes patience and persistence, especially on your part. The brain wants to take the path of least resistance, so kids are going to want to speak the community language you’re surrounded by, especially once they get older and go to school. You may also meet some resistance from your spouse if they only speak English because, hey, they can’t understand you and no one likes feeling left out.

My hardest challenge? I feel like my Chinese skills are inadequate because I don’t know how to say even the simplest kids words like “hop” or “skip” or “let’s play hide and go seek." If you don’t know how to say something, download a language dictionary app for your phone or text a native speaker to find out. And trust me, your baby won’t laugh if your accent is horrible, so just keep practicing and doing your best. 😊

Final Word: Have Fun With it!

A lot of people are huge advocates for multilingualism and it’s become their identity. I’m not one of those people. Learning another language is just for fun, it’s educational, and yeah, maybe they’ll be able to use it in business or to meet new friends one day. At the end of the day, I have other priorities in life for my kids, like developing their character and spiritual beliefs. So for our family, learning Chinese is a connection to their heritage (and it’s a pretty cool party trick).

Question of the Day

Do you have any tips for teaching your kids another language? Let me know by commenting below to share your experiences.

Related Links
5 Steps to Teach Your Child a Foreign Language
How to Teach Your Kid a Second Language Even if You Suck at It

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