The advantages of being bilingual are undeniable. In the business world, these advantages manifest in increased productivity, increased salaries, and an overall increased intelligence. Though learning a language definitely has great benefits for adults, experts say that the best time to start learning a language is as a child. The ideal would be to acquire the language naturally through constant exposure to the language being spoken by their caregiver. While speaking to the child in two languages as they grow up will eventually lead to fluency in both, there are a few keys to success for raising bilingual children that will help the process go as smoothly as possible.
Select Home Language
For some, this will be an easy task. Perhaps you have recently relocated into a country that does not speak your language. The natural language of choice at home will be your native language. In that case, the choice is simple. If you are a single caregiver, your answer will likely be the same. You will choose the language that you grew up speaking. Or maybe you are of the philosophy that you want to fully adapt to your new country of residence. In that case, you may choose to only speak the local language and stop speaking your mother tongue. While this may seem advantageous to you at the time, it may not be the best choice for your children. This will be discussed further on in the article.
Choose Each Caregiver’s Language
In the case where there is one caregiver, there is no question as to which language they will speak. They will either speak their native language or the local language, depending on their personal choice. Things become more complicated when one caregiver has one mother tongue and the other has a different one. In these cases, you will need to choose who will speak which language with the child. If choosing to speak the local language at home, there is no need for selection. If, however, you wish your child to learn each parent’s language, you must choose how to go about that. The best method is for each parent to only speak their native language with the child. Reasons for this will be outlined in the next point. This may mean that one parent may need to learn the language of the other parent, if they do not know it already. Reasons will be detailed below.
Realize the Difficulties of Raising Bilinguals
As you make the choice to raise bilingual children, you must realize that it is not simply a matter of speaking your native language with them. There will be difficulties that you will face. With the language outside of your home being different, it will be difficult not to cave to the pressure of wanting to conform or not stand out. This may make it easy in the moment, but in the future, you may come to regret it. This will become particularly difficult when your kids come of school age. They will be learning a different language at school and will start wanting to speak that language at home. This is where you as a caregiver must stand strong. Only respond to your child when they express their need in the language that you have selected to be spoken to. If you constantly give in and either respond in your native language or even in the language they are learning in school, they will likely stop speaking your language altogether. Another thing to consider is teaching your child to read and write in your native tongue. This can definitely wait until they have been taught in school in their new language, but it is not a step that should be skipped in their bilingual upbringing.
Consider the Future
As discussed earlier in this article, it may seem advantageous to only teach your children the local language and stop using your native language altogether. However, you need to consider how this will impact your children’s future. Being raised learning only one language will take away the brain benefits, professional benefits, and personal benefits from your children. When they grow old enough, they may not thank you for not teaching them your native language. They might even ask why you didn’t. Not teaching your language and culture to your children will keep them from knowing that part of you. It will also inhibit their ability to speak to your extended family without language barriers. So, while it may seem easier just to speak the local language with your children, especially when they are school age, it may not be the best for your children’s future.
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