Expat families

5 tips for raising bilingual children

One of the biggest challenges for expat families that just moved to a new country is helping the kids to learn the language. It is especially challenging if the local language is neither of the parents’ native language, but one that is new to all of the family’s members. Everyone has to learn it, but it’s the parents’ extra responsibility to help the kids with the process as much as they can. Read our 5 tips for raising bilingual children!

raising bilingual children
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Research shows that the sooner a child gets exposed to a second language, the easier it is for them to learn it. That is because children at very early ages are still mostly thinking in patterns, and can easily spot the difference in patterns of different languages. But many families chose to move abroad after the children already speak their native language, and will learn the new one as a second language instead of simultaneously learning it with their native one. There are many myths and misconceptions about raising a bilingual child in this situation, and it can certainly get scary at first, but worry not! See these five tips below on how you can make the process as natural and effective as possible for your kid!

1 – Exposure to the language

This is the first rule really. Once you decided to move for good, and you know you are planning to stay, you also know that the sooner your child learns the language, the sooner they will be able to find their place at your new home. Make sure they are exposed to the language as often as possible. If you happen to know other families, visit them, spend time with native speakers. It’s not always necessary for the child to speak, but let them spend time in communities where they can get used to the language, how it sounds, to pick up on its logic and pattern.

2 – Provide need to use the language, not just exposure

After having provided exposure, you will need to make sure your child finds themselves in situations where they have to use the language. Give them opportunities where they can try using what they have already picked up on. Consistency and practice are key here. You know as an adult, how when you start to learn a language, it can get really hard to start again after a break when you went a couple of days – weeks without practising. As with anything that is learned through practice and repetition, consistency is really important.

3 – Send them to local school/kindergarten

At first this may be scary both for you and the child, but this is the best way to help them actually learn the language. Many parents chose to send the kids to international schools because they want to make it easier for the kid, but in the long run a local school can be more helpful. If you decide on doing so, it’s really important that you trust the community and the teachers. Know where your job ends and where theirs start. If the school accepted your application, they are for sure used to this kind of situation, and they have a plan that has proved to be working with other kids already. Trust them, and cooperate with them: let them do their part of the job, and if there is anything they tell you you can do at home to help your kid grow, take their advice.

Research has shown that kids in these situations often seem to be behind the others at first, which easy to understand: they don’t only have to learn the material, but the language itself. But research also shows that afterwards these kids will most likely outperform their classmates. This is also no news, because we know that bilingual children tend to be more creative, and their problem solving skills are much stronger, which is all precisely because they went through the initial phases and challenges of becoming bilingual. Patience and consistency, as always!

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4 – Have a multilingual multicultural library at home

This is also something that can go a long way. This way you are not only helping your child learn the new language, but also broaden their horizon, and becoming more open-minded. The same goes for movies and music as well. Let your child know more of what is out there, but at the same time be present, and teach them the subtle art of critical thinking, and responsibly choosing what is worthy of their time and what is not.

5 – Keep speaking own language back home

This is something a lot of professionals highlight. While you do everything to help your child learn the new language, don’t forget your native language! This is important in many ways, both mentally and emotionally, but is actually has a very important role in your child’s speech development as well: by speaking the new language in school and the native language at home, the language skills will start to balance out. Initially your kid will have difficulty in speaking the new language, their vocabulary won’t be as rich, they will struggle with grammar etc, but by having the chance to speak their native language at home, they will be able to fully speak a language, not struggling, but being confident and inventive. This will then help them with the second language as well, making them bilingual children really. So if there is an antonym for a “vicious circle”, then this process is the perfect example for it!

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At a glance

  • The sooner your children learn the language, the sooner they will be able to find their place at your new home.
  • Make sure they are exposed to the language as often as possible.
  • Consistency and practice are key.
  • A local school can be a good option.
  • Have multilingual, multicultural books, movies and music at home.
  • Don’t forget your native language. Bilingual children should keep both languages up.