August 27, 2019

How do I bring my child up bilingually? The 4-step process

So, you are pregnant, or are already a parent, and are hoping to bring your child up bilingually or with a solid knowledge of another language! Amazing!

I have three bilingual children and spend lots of time with families just like yours. It is a joyful journey!

The good news is that you can do it. It is possible regardless of your situation. However, as you probably suspected, a child will not magically become bilingual without some effort from their parents or carers. It is a skill which needs to be nurtured. Don’t worry though! I have been there and can share my experience to give you some shortcuts.

The photo is of my first born and I in 2010. He was three weeks old and I was a new parent with a lot on my plate but determined he would become bilingual so he could grab every opportunity presented to him in his future.

Here are the 4 steps for successfully bringing your child up bilingually which I wish I had known back then:

1. Positive Mental Attitude (PMA)

It all starts with the right attitude. Do not skip this step! It may even be the most important one.

There are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, bringing a child up bilingually is a long process which can be joyful but but there may be harder times. When you experience a setback it helps to be confident in your goals, and your plan. Perhaps, a well-intentioned friend or relative questions your plan and doubt clouds your mind. During these times you need to be sure why you are choosing this route. We will discuss your plan in step two.

Secondly, children are highly sensitive to the feelings of those around them. They can sniff out anxiety a mile off! You do not want to pass this on to your child. Positive Mental Attitude all the way!

Complaining to your child that they have replied in the ‘wrong’ language. Or, spot testing them in front of a group of people will create a negative association with the language which they may carry into adulthood. Remember that in the first few years of your child’s life, the goal is to ensure they see languages as a positive, normal part of their surroundings and NOT a test, challenge or worry.

2. Make a Family Language Plan (FLP)

Looking back, I had a pretty good attitude. I was firm in my beliefs as to the benefits of learning a second language from birth. I understood that it would be a marathon and not a sprint.

What I didn’t really have was a plan.

A Family Language Plan is the way in which you will ensure that you are nurturing both the minority and majority languages in your family. It helps to keep you on track. Your minority language is the one that needs the most tender loving care.

Your FLP could take the form of an in-depth discussion with your partner or it could be a place or document where you note your ideas and resources as you come across them. It keeps you on track.

Areas to consider in your FLP:

  1. What is your goal for your child? Key words/ conversational/ bilingual/ bi-literate/ bi-cultured?
  2. Which languages do both parents know? Do you know the words a child will tend to use in that language?
  3. Which languages will parents speak when they have 1:1 time with their child? For bilingual families, One Parent One Language or not? LINK to blog piece on OPOL
  4. Can the grown-ups in the family learn too?
  5. Should there be a day or time when the minority language is encouraged? i.e. Sunday games night?
  6. External support – What other family and friends can help? Online social media groups? LINK to facebook group
  7. Where can you get books in the minority language? LINK to Blog piece on books
  8. Do you know lots of songs and nursery rhymes in the minority language?
  9. Are there local playgroups or language groups aimed at young children you can attend?
  10. What about babysitters and bilingual childcare?
  11. Where can you see videos in the minority language?
  12. What “boost activities” do you have up your sleeve for days or weeks when you need to increase the minority language? i.e. For younger children, a quick game using your hands? A printable activity? You’ll find lots of ideas on the Mini French Membership platform LINK
  13. What can you do to explore the culture of the country of the minority language?
  14. When can you travel to a country where your minority language is spoken?

This list is intended to start a conversation and not to overwhelm! Your plan can, and should be, flexed as your child develops. It focuses you on ensuring you have lots of ideas, resources and support giving you confidence in your approach.

A Family Language Plan as unique as your family is.

3. Put the plan into place

Now you have the best attitude and an awesome plan you are ready to rock!

Stand-by your plan. If you expose your child to a new language regularly, you and your child will see results but enjoy the journey! Remember to make sure that you add your own personality and, crucially, keep it as fun as possible.

Watch your growing child and get to know what is working and what is not. As they develop, note their learning style – do they prefer active games, being creative or singing?

Repetition and regular exposure are key. Make sure you have easy access to people and resources that can help you.

Keep it up but do not beat yourself up when the plan changes from time to time and if you are finding that there are certain parts that are just not feasible then you may want to make some changes. Which leads us to the final step.

4. Review your plan periodically

The best plans are flexible and are reviewed from time to time to keep them fresh.

This is something I now do frequently with my partner. We think about each of our three children and discuss what each of them may need to advance their spoken or written French. I also encourage parents who I support on their language journey to revise their plan from time to time and keep seeking fun resources.

One of the parents who comes to my class has basic French and asked me for ideas. We devised a plan where she watched a video a week in addition to the classes and then looked for matching toys round the house. They now have a French basket and their three-year-old can name all the objects. Well done Mama!

Regardless of your level – monolingual parents or bilingual parents – the principles of having a plan, putting it into place and reviewing it still apply.

So, what now to start bringing my child up bilingually? Take time to go through step one and two, grab a cuppa and look for local resources. Put your plan into action with support from friends and family. Then review it from time to time. Keep it fresh and fun.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch. I love a chat and would welcome your experiences.

Good luck!
Felicity x

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