Raising a Bilingual Child

5 Tips for Parents on How to Raise a Bilingual Child & Make the Most of Bilingual Education

Are you considering bilingual education for your child but need help on how to support them?

You’re not alone! Many parents need help navigating the bilingual learning journey and raising a bilingual child, but the good news is that bilingual education is a powerful tool for long-term success

Not only do bilingual students perform just as well on measures of English proficiency as monolingual students, but they also gain a whole other set of linguistic and literacy skills. 

So, whether you speak the language of instruction or not, you can be a crucial player in your child’s bilingual education success. Get ready to unlock the cognitive benefits of bilingualism and give your child a head start in a multilingual world with this guide on bilingual education for parents.

1. Bilingual Education Should be Viewed as a Long-Term Journey for the Most Benefits

Raising a bilingual child and and the bilingual education process differs from a monolingual education. 

Bilingual education programs often begin for students at an early age, around 3 or 4 years old.  The benefits of this type of education begin to become apparent by 6th or 8th grade, when bilingual students often perform significantly better than their monolingual peers. In the long term, bilingual students perform just as well in measures of English proficiency as monolingual students while also having the added benefit of a second language and literacy skills.

When starting a bilingual education program, it is essential to keep this in mind, as it is an investment in long-term benefits and success.

2 . Parent Fluency in a Child's Instructional Language is Not Required

It is natural for parents to want to support their child’s language learning journey, but it is important to understand that learning a second language alongside the child is not necessary for their success in bilingual child development.

It is often unrealistic for parents to expect themselves to have the same focus, time, and energy as a young student to fully immerse themselves and absorb a new language, especially when trying to keep up with a 4 or 5-year-old who is learning a new language.

It is crucial to support your child in the language spoken at home. It is important to remember that language skills acquired in one language can transfer to another. Instead of independently learning a new language, focus on reading in the language spoken at home and providing opportunities for your child to develop their linguistic abilities. This will ultimately benefit the child’s proficiency in both languages.

3. Authentic Environments and Interactive Experiences are Key to Effective Language Learning

Many of us can recall our high school French or Spanish classes where the method of learning was by repetitive practice, grammar rules, and memorization. Most of us also remember how this approach to language learning was ineffective. To aid in your child’s language development, consider putting away the flashcards and immersing them in a language for more effective learning.

4. Skills Learned in One Language are Transferrable to Other Languages

Just as reading in English can help your child understand French, the experience of learning French will prove beneficial when they tackle additional languages, such as Spanish or Chinese, in the future.

Being attuned to the underlying structure of language is known as metalinguistic awareness. When compared to monolingual individuals, metalinguistic awareness is a skill that bilingual individuals tend to possess more of. If you have studied Russian and now need to learn Arabic for your job, you will be able to utilize the metalinguistic understanding you gained from learning Russian to aid in your study of Arabic.
Bilingual education can be likened to a language accelerator, as it allows children to acquire new languages easily and efficiently. Furthermore, the type of learning and pattern recognition skills developed through bilingual education can be applied to various cognitive and academic areas.

5. Mixing Languages is a Normal Aspect of Language Acquisition and Should be Fostered

While you are raising your bilingual child, there’s no need to be worried if your child starts blending multiple languages while they are learning. Those who research second language acquisition are moving away from the idea of code-switching (alternating between languages such as French and English) and embracing the concept of translanguaging, which suggests that it’s beneficial for learners to use the resources they have in one language to aid in the acquisition of another.

Though it may not be pleasant to hear, a child’s mix of languages, such as Franglish or Changlish, is an inevitable part of the process of language acquisition. As with any other aspect of the learning journey, it’s crucial to consider the long-term view.

Frequently Asked Questions

Some effective methods for teaching a child a language you do not speak at home include educational immersion programs, language classes, tutors, language-learning apps, and interactive language-learning tools such as books, videos, and games. Additionally, it can be helpful to seek out native speakers of the language to interact with, such as through language exchange programs or language conversation partners.

To get more tips on how you can support your child in their bilingual education journey, click here.

When teaching a child a language other than the one spoken at home, age-specific considerations include the following:

Young children tend to have an easier time picking up new languages and tend to be less self-conscious about making mistakes.

Older children and teenagers may find it more challenging to learn a new language. Still, they may have a greater motivation to do so.

Adult learners may have a more difficult time with language learning but have a better understanding of grammar and can apply the language more practically.

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