How To Raise A Bilingual Child? Common Concerns And The Top 4 Methods
Have you ever struggled to find the right English word to describe what you mean as a non-native English speaker? Then, you definitely wished that your parents raised you as a bilingual child at least once in your life. And that is the main reason you are thinking about the upbringing of a bilingual child. And you are not alone in that. The subject has been on the rise for the past several years. The growing interest in foreign languages and globalization show the clear necessity for parents to raise their kids bilingual. So, Promova decided to explore the topic of bilingual parenting and provide you with all the must-knows.
What Are Bilingual Children And Why To Want Them
Bilinguals are people who fluently speak two languages. However, it doesn't necessarily require learning the language from birth. There are two types of bilinguals - simultaneous and sequential bilinguals. When kids from the first category are raised as bilingual from a very young age, the second become fluent in another language later in life as adults.
By bilingual children, people usually understand those who are raised by parents who speak two languages. Society doesn't always claim kids who start getting familiar with a second language only at foreign language classes at school. However, such kids can result to be bilingual over time.
While in some countries like Canada, Belgium, Netherlands, or some US states like California, Texas, Florida, and Miami, bilingualism is set in its core, parents from other countries decide to raise their kids bilingually by choice. In a fast-progressing world, such a choice isn't always dictated by immigration or intercultural marriages. People see how beneficial being raised bilingual can be. They got the gist early enough to make their kids' lives easier by raising them bilingual.
If knowing another language fluently isn't enough argument for you alone, let's see why else parents want to raise a child bilingually.
1. Fluency in two languages gives more educational, career, travel, and communication opportunities. While some people struggle to match their skills to some jobs, adults raised as bilingual children could be a better fit just by having strong command skills in another language. Plus, they can grasp more information and don't need to wait for the translation of the content.
2. Bilingual children are proven to be more advanced in social understanding. Some studies show that bilingual preschoolers better understand others' perspectives, thoughts, desires, and intentions than their monolingual peers. Therefore, it can benefit greatly when socializing with people in general and working in a fast-paced environment with different people.
3. The practice of constant shifting between languages results in better performance on tasks where a person needs to switch between activities and inhibit previously learned responses, shows the 2012 Bialystok, Craik, & Luk study. Scientists claim that code-switching trains the brain and makes it more plastic. So the cognitive processes happen more effortlessly.
Overall, bilingualism has many advantages regarding brain development and achieving success in life. So, no wonder the parents keep choosing to raise children bilingually even if they are not completely fluent. Hard work always pays off!
Top 4 Methods To Raise Bilingual Children: Pros And Cons
If you and your partner came to a joint decision to raise your child/children bilingual, there are several methods that you can implement. The approaches to raising bilingual kids include Minority Language at Home (MLAH), One Person, One Language (OPOL), Time and Place methods, and Mixed Language Strategy. Each has pros and cons that you should be aware of before choosing one for raising the kids. So let's take a closer look at all of them.
Minority Language at Home (MLAH): A Bilingual Parenting Method
The Minority Language at Home method is one of the most widespread when raising a bilingual child. It involves speaking the minority language in the household and the community language in a social environment. Basically, kids speak one language with their parents and family and the other at school, with friends, etc.
According to the book Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability by Adam Beck, the MLAH approach has the «highest success rate of 96.92%». However, to achieve such success, parents must be fluent or proficient in the language they try to teach their kids and not use the other language around them or as little as possible.
Pros of the Minority Language at Home approach:
- Speaking one language as a family can create a special bond between parents and a child.
- The exposure to a minority language is massive, so it better integrates into a child's understanding of the world.
- The child usually doesn't have questions about why they need to speak the minority language because they see it's necessary to communicate with parents. In such a case, the learning flow will be more natural.
Cons of the Minority Language at Home approach:
- If both parents work a lot and don't spend enough time with a child, the method won't be effective enough. The family must engage the nanny who speaks the minority language in the child's upbringing.
- Parents must be fluent enough or proficient in the minority language so the kids would feel loved and appreciated. The thing is that our emotions and strong reactions are more connected to our first language. And if parents use the language they speak poorly to raise children bilingually, there is a risk of seeming distant and cold.
- Suppose the child isn't integrated enough into society and they don't use the community language as much as a minority language. In that case, the school might become a challenging place in terms of language at first.
One Person, One Language (OPOL): A Bilingual Parenting Method
The One Person, One Language (OPOL) is another popular approach for raising bilingual children. The method's name explains itself pretty well, but we'll still clarify the concept. The OPOL bilingual parenting approach requires each parent or other partakers to speak to a child only in one language. This method is the most beneficial and effortless when parents are natives of different languages. However, it will also work just fine for those family members who speak other languages fluently enough. The success rate of OPOL is 74.24%, according to the book Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability by Adam Beck. The method is considered to have a long history. Over the centuries, wealthy families would hire governesses from different countries so their kids would learn foreign languages from a young age more effortlessly. World history demonstrated many cases when the heirs of royals and upper-class families spoke several languages thanks to the OPOL approach.
Pros of the One Person, One Language approach:
- The clear differentiation of two languages between two parents helps prevent code-mixing when the kid taps into the words or grammar structures from one language into another.
- Parents start raising bilingual children earlier with this method, meaning kids are exposed to two languages simultaneously. For instance, the Minority Language at Home approach restricts using the community language in the household because children will always learn the majority language outside the home. However, in that case, the child won't get used to both languages simultaneously.
- It is easier for parents to express their emotions in their first language, so bilingual kids will learn to do it too. In childhood, it will help to create a stronger parent-kid bond. In the future, adults raised with OPOL are less likely to have difficulties expressing their emotions in either language because the cognitive connection will be formed more naturally.
Cos of the One Person, One Language approach:
- The exposure to both languages won't be equal because of social enforcement. Eventually, one language will remain a minority language, leading to limited fluency or a passive bilingual child (understanding but not using the language). To avoid that, the family must work hard to level the imbalance.
- Parents will need to explain to kids many things twice - in both languages. Otherwise, they will know how to name something in one language but not another. Plus, such an approach can lead to a child having difficulties communicating with both parents simultaneously unless they both speak one of the targeted languages.
- 25% of the children raised with the OPOL bilingual parenting approach did not become bilingual, according to the Annick de Houwer study. One of the reasons is a lack of outside support or resources.
Time and Place: A Bilingual Parenting Method
The best approach for upbringing bilingual children if you are not fluent enough in the added language is Time and Place. According to this method, parents choose a specific time and place where they speak the minority language with a kid. In this case, both parents speak the same language simultaneously. You can create a schedule for when and where you plan to tap into the minority language. For instance, in the morning, you speak one language, but after the day's nap, you switch to another. The other example can be changing the language according to the day of the week, the room in the house, or the locations in general.
To make the T&P approach more fun, parents can play around with different periods and places to see what works best for the family. Also, they can set up an entire schedule to make the switching process easier to follow and stay committed to it.
Pros of the Time and Place approach:
- It is suitable for monolingual parents who are not completely fluent in the language they want to add to their kids' lives. So, adults can improve their English skills along with children growing according to their needs.
- Families can find their own pace and timings for acquiring a new language which will fit their life in the best way possible.
- With time children will learn to change the language according to the place and time, so there will be less confusion in code-switching.
Cons of the Time and Place approach:
- It might be more challenging for school-aged children since they will spend much time in the majority language environment.
- Some families might see the method as difficult to commit and stay consistent. But it's usually because of a lack of motivation.
- Kids will need more time to become fluent because not all subjects will be covered in both languages. Parents must change languages according to the moment and place to keep the language skills development proportional.
Mixed Language Strategy: A Bilingual Parenting Method
The Mixed Language Strategy is the most beneficial for those families who used one of the methods of bilingual parenting explained before. It might be confusing for kids as a first choice because there are no rules. Both parents speak both languages with their kids. They pick the language to use, relying only on their preferences, so it's pretty random. However, such a method is the most common in immigrant families where parents want to pass their mother tongue to their kids but don't want to overthink the process and try to keep it natural. They use languages interchangeably without putting much effort. The MLS is also popular in families where parents achieved high proficiency in the same foreign language as a hobby or for a job. For instance, English is a leading added language among bilingual kids today.
Pros of the Mixed Language Strategy:
- Parents can live their lives and slack on the constant research and rules inside the family regarding bilingualism. They can access both languages whenever they need, so they don't struggle with finding the relevant word or phrase in a particular language. Switching is the perfect solution in this case.
- Children and parents interact naturally, so kids can see all the aspects of their parents' characters. People develop slightly different personalities with each language. For instance, speaking the American variation of English can make a more smiley person of you when you might have a resting face in day-to-day life. But since smiling a lot is a character feature of American speech and culture in general, you acquired it with the language.
- Anybody can give a hand in raising a child bilingually. Suppose the older generation of your family doesn't speak English, but they want to contribute to your child's bilingualism. They can learn some simple words to teach bilingual babies from the age of zero. All they will need are some introduction classes and flashcards.
Cons of the Mixed Language Strategy:
- Bilingual children can mix languages when they like the word from one language easier or feel more connected to it. It might become an issue when a bilingual kid starts communicating with monolingual peers. So parents need to develop monolingual conversations with kids in both languages.
- Parents might not stick to bilingualism in their upbringing, leading to kids losing fluency in the minority language. Plus, the more children are exposed to the community language, the more parents should use the added language to balance both developments. Otherwise, kids will become passive bilinguals.
- Children might reject the minority language. Sometimes, when kids start going to kindergarten or school, parents can feel like the most challenging part of raising bilingual children is done. Like the kids already know enough and will stay bilingual even if everyone around, including family, uses just one language. Unfortunately, it's not the case. You could lose the ability to understand and speak the language without practice, even if you were practically native as a child. So, mum, dad, please, keep going!
Facts and Caps About Upbringing Bilingual Kids
Raising bilingual children is surrounded by many disturbing myths about delaying kids' development, causing issues in studying and communication with people. Not knowing the truth about the pros and cons of raising bilingual kids might scare parents from implementing a second language in their children's lives. That is especially true for families where parents aren't bilingual from birth and live in the country where they were raised. They simply might not have enough motivation to "overstimulate and exhaust kids' brains." But such arguments only throw dust in parents' eyes. That is why we are about to break some myths about raising bilingual children and face the truth about the consequences of such a decision.
1. Kids can pick up two languages simultaneously through constant exposure, just like that, without any effort. - Fact
Children have no difficulty understanding any language they are surrounded with from a young age. Just think about babies. They don't pick what language environment to grow in. Instead, their parents decide that for them, because of the constant exposure, toddlers start speaking the language they have been exposed to all their life. So, there is nothing magical in raising a bilingual child. Parents must expose kids to two languages simultaneously with patience and consistency.
2. Raising children bilingually requires a lot of money. - Cap
That is simply not true. Teaching your kids a second language the most natural way might not cost you a dime. If you and your partner have a high level of proficiency in the targeted language or you're bilingual, just decide on one of the bilingual parenting approaches and start the process. You speaking to your child is the only «tool» they will need for several months. Whenever you feel like including other materials for developing bilingualism in your child, you can search and find plenty of free materials on the Internet. For instance, there are plenty of YouTube videos in different languages that can educate you on bilingual parenting subjects as well as provide content for improving any language in the world.
Nonetheless, we won't lie by saying that bilingual kindergartens and schools will cost you nothing. Of course, if you decide to put your kids in such schools, you'll need to save some additional money. But that is not necessarily at all to raise a child bilingual successfully.
3. Kids raised bilingual start speaking later. - Cap
This is a common concern and misconception. The delay might or might not appear if kids grow up in a bilingual environment. However, that's not something parents should worry about. Even if kids start speaking a bit later, the delay won't be drastic and problematic for later communication. Some kids just might need additional time to process incoming information and settle it in their minds. Learning two vocabularies and grammatical structures requires time. To be fair, delay in speaking happens even with monolingual kids. In any case, give your children time, and don't push them to talk. It may cause tension between you two. Also, a child can remember the negative experience with one of the languages and reject it subconsciously.
4. The child won't be able to differ two languages. - Cap
Wrong! Researches from the Institute for learning & brain sciences at the University of Washington show that babies start to identify different sounds while still in the womb. By the time they are born, infants can already distinguish between languages. How come? The answer is that learning languages at a young age is all about sound perception. At birth, the baby's brain can differ between all 800 sounds that exist in the world's languages. However, with time they will eliminate the ability to hear language sounds that don't surround them. Every language consists of 40 sounds. Even though some phonemes in two languages might sound the same, they still have a minor difference that non-native speakers won't be able to catch.
5. One language will be more important than the other. - Fact
When you raise your child bilingual, one language will always remain a minority language. In many cases, kids will think of it as a less important language. It happens because of unequal exposure, which also depends on the bilingual parenting method of your choice. The imbalance can appear long before the child starts attending daycare or school. For instance, if parents decide to go with the OPOL approach and one parent will spend less time with a bilingual baby because of work, one language becomes more dominant.
Integrating into the monolingual society as the child grows will show that there is no need for a second language as well. That is why balancing languages according to the child's development is so important. Remember to explain to older kids why keeping a second language is vital. But try not to overload them with serious talks. Instead, use reading, singing, talking, and playing games to expose them to the non-dominant language.
Nonetheless, no matter how hard you work, the language imbalance won't disappear completely. One language will always be more dominant, preferable, and close to heart.
6. Kids will mix two languages and won't be able to have monolingual conversations. - Cap
According to the book The Bilingual Edge by Kendall King and Alison Mackey, "Mixing languages is a normal phase of bilingual language development. It seems to be near-universal among bilingual children and is apparent even at the babbling stage; that is, long before children can say a word in any language."
Studies show that kids can occasionally mix up the languages, especially when they know their interlocutor is also bilingual. However, it rarely happens when bilinguals communicate with monolinguals. In both cases, using some words from one language while speaking another isn't a sign to shut down bilingual parenting. Sometimes, parents just need to kindly remind their kids that the words they've just used belong to another language. Then, children's brains will receive the information, analyze it, and integrate it for further use. Over time, the mixing of languages will decrease and almost disappear.
All mentioned before brings us to the conclusion that children can hold a monolingual conversation in both languages. In the early years, they might need an additional «switcher» that can be a time, place, person, or situation. However, in most cases, it works in a way that kids speak the language their interlocutor communicates with them. Nonetheless, they can answer how to say [word or phrase] in [targeted language].
7. The earlier you start, the better. - Fact
The language research proved that there is a direct correlation between age and the ability to acquire a second language fully. The younger the child is, the easier it is to gain full command of the language. The article The Critical Period Hypothesis in Second Language Acquisition: A Statistical Critique and a Reanalysis states that the first years of a child's life are the most important to develop bilingualism. The ability to perceive different sounds naturally, even in the teenage years, is limited. However, it doesn't mean if you missed the first couple of months after the baby was born, bilingual parenting approaches won't work for them. They just might need more time to adjust and switch their brain.
8. The cultural aspect is unimportant in raising bilingual children. - Cap.
Language and culture behind it are closely connected. That is why there is little point in introducing a second language to a child if you are not planning to educate them about the cultural aspect of it. The sense of time and formation of the collocations are cultural. For this reason, there are some English words that don't translate in one word to other languages, for instance.
Of course, parents can try to raise children bilingual without giving them knowledge about the culture. However, lacking the cultural context will lead to lifeless and mechanical language skills. Nobody wants that.
9. Children might reject the minority language because of a lack of interest. - Fact
Unfortunately, parents sometimes can't interest their children in learning and using a second language. The main reason is the wrong approach to bilingual parenting. Tutoring won't help kids to develop skills in another language. Instead, they should see how the language functions in the real world. Talking, reading, playing games, and communicating with natives will help to arouse interest much better.
10. Bilingual siblings will have a different level of fluency in a minority language. - Fact
Regardless the parents might not have any experience in raising a bilingual kid at the beginning, the firstborn child will result in being more bilingual than the siblings. The presence of another child in the family always upsets the language balance in a bilingual home. And that is pretty logical. In such a situation, parents or other adults who can control themselves are not the only ones communicating with the child. Younger siblings get influenced by the firstborn child who could've already chosen the "more important" language for themselves. When firstborns start school, they practice the community language more, so it becomes dominant. Then, they bring it home and speak to their siblings. To eliminate the imbalance, parents should increase the exposure to the minority language for younger kids.
Raising Bilingual Children With Promova
Every family situation is unique, and parents are free to choose a second language to raise a child bilingual according to their beliefs. However, more parents keep picking English as a minority language for bilingual parenting. So what are they guided by?
- English is the official language in 67 countries. Plus, even more, countries use the language as the first foreign language to teach at schools.
- More than 1/4 of the world's population speaks at least some English.
- The Internet mostly runs in English. The majority of information - over 80% is written in English.
- New English words appear every day. A new term is added to the dictionary every two hours.
- English is the language of the air. All pilots must speak English while flying, regardless of country or nationality.
However, if you are determined to raise your child bilingual in your native language and English, you need to master your English first. And the language learning platform Promova can help you with that! Promova is a one-stop tool for learning English through English. In addition, we offer several options to improve your English skills.
- The Promova app. Take a quick test to determine your English level, then choose guided or unguided experience, the course, and get rolled. We have bite-sized lessons with cute flashcards for different proficiency levels, interests, and goals. Our content creators regularly update the app with new lessons, so you will never run out of knowledge.
- Tutoring program. We understand the importance of interacting with real people to achieve English fluency. That is why we offer individual and group lessons with certified professional teachers. They create personalized learning plans counting on your current English level, goals, interests, latest trends, and suggestions. You will see the progress with the Promova tutoring program in no time. The first trial lesson is free during the first week after registration.
- Conversation Club. You can never have too much speaking practice. That is why we don't charge English learners for participating in the Promova Conversation Club. It is free for everybody starting from B1 level or higher. The only requirement is prior registration for the chosen date since we work in small groups.
- Educational blog and social media. Promova is staying in touch with English learners on every possible level. We aim to pack your brain with the most amount of English so it would be easier for you to tap into skills. Check out the Promova blog regularly for more educational content and reading practice. And don't forget to follow us on Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn.
Raising a bilingual child requires a lot of hard work from parents. They need a clear understanding of why they want bilingual children, what it means, and how much effort they will put into such an upbringing. Fully bilingual children rarely happen by accident. So, the family has to choose one of the bilingual parenting approaches and stick to it, paying additional attention to balancing the development of both languages. This article was meant to give you as much information on bilingual parenting approaches, break the myths and charge you with positive vibes to raise a bilingual kid.
Do bilingual children do better in life?
Baby's brain can be compared to a computer with a hard drive, except it doesn't have a limit in memory storage. In the early stages of life, kids learn a lot of information about the world long before they start to talk. And teaching them another language at a young age (between 0 and 3) will help them to develop more «cognitive flexibility," according to Concordia research. Bilingual children must build a cognitive connection with everything surrounding them twice - for every language separately. So no wonder that being raised as a bilingual child result in many cognitive benefits further in life. Since adjusting to two languages at once makes the brain more plastic, it increases the aptitude for learning. Another study showed that grownup bilinguals exposed to two languages in early childhood could shift their attention between different tasks quicker than those who pick up a second language later in life. Their brain adapts and switches to new information more effortlessly because speaking two languages requires “executive functioning.”
Can a bilingual child become a translator or linguist in the future without a proper degree?
The simple answer to this question is that being bilingual is not enough. It's the same that being a native speaker is not enough to work as a tutor. Although, on the one hand, bilingual adults can translate between the two languages they were raised with and even can explain some linguistic aspects of those two languages, on the other hand, it is just nothing more than a solid base. They will need additional skills and expertise to become professional translators or linguists. The reason is that bilingual people learn a second language for a different purpose. So, they can usually operate fluently with two languages separately, but they find it difficult to translate accurately on the go. That is what a proper degree in languages is for - learning all the nuances between two languages and how they correlate.
What to read about raising a bilingual child?
In this time and era, raising bilingual children is going through a new wave of popularity. The good news is that by this time, scientists and linguists have come up with enough work on the subject to help with bilingual parenting. Here is a list of books that will give you a hand in getting expertise in how to raise a bilingual child.
- Bilingual – Life and Reality by François Grosjean
- The Bilingual Brain by Arturo E. Hernandez
- A Parents' and Teachers' Guide to Bilingualism by Colin Baker
- An Introduction to Bilingual Development by Annick De Houwer
- Bilingual First Language Acquisition by Annick De Houwer
- Bilingual Siblings by Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert
- Language Strategies for Trilingual Families by Andreas Braun and Tony Cline
- Growing up with Three Languages and 9. Maintaining Three Languages by Xiao-lei Wang
- Learning to Read and Write in the Multilingual Family by Xiao-lei Wang
- Bilingualism in the Early Years: A resourceful guide to theory and best practice by Stephanie Mathivet
- Assessing Multilingual Children, edited by S Armon-Lotem, J de Jong, N Meir
- Solutions for Assessment of Bilinguals edited by V C Mueller Gathercole
- How Language Works by David Crystal
- Bringing up a Bilingual Child by Yours Truly
Why are some kids not fully bilingual even though they speak two languages?
By true bilingualism, people understand the ability to speak two languages with the proficiency of a native. At first glance, it may seem that all bilingual kids are like that. However, no matter how you try, if you don't live in a country with bilingualism at its core, kids will still have some minor limits in the minority language. To be totally fluent in another language, the person needs to feel the language and stay updated with the changes. For instance, coming to Latin America or Spain, many Hispanic children from the US discovered that their Spanish is old-fashioned and out of touch. The reason is that they learned the language from their families and surrounding living in the States for a long time, so their Spanish skills didn't improve naturally with time. And such Spanish parents taught their children. That is why it is crucial to engage native speakers from the actual language environment in raising a bilingual child.