How to Raise Multilingual Kids

This continues my musings from last week. 

Despite some misgivings about which language to speak with my children on a day-to-day basis, I have no doubts at all that it is hugely beneficial for them to grow up with more than one language.  So here is a quick summary of the top ten tips that I have learnt from parents, educators, linguists and children too about growing up with many languages.

1)  Speak your mothertongue with them from the start (preferably even during pregnancy)

2) If you aren’t fluent in a foreign language, don’t give up – just build a good support system around yourself.  There are so many resources out there (books, DVDs, CDs, games, neighbours and babysitters) – use them creatively.

3) It doesn’t have to be expensive – many things are available from the library.  You can also do online skillswaps – there are plenty of language classes available in exchange for other skills.

4) There is no single right way to do it – each child, each family, each situation is different.  Find what works best for you.

5) Don’t be intimidated by the science – if you have the willpower and the motivation, you can do it.

6) Motivation is more important than natural talent – any child can learn an additional language if they are exposed to it early enough and if it’s fun enough.

7) Consistency is hard – there are so many reasons to give up, but persevere even when you get discouraged.

8) Confusion is normal – children will throw in words from different languages, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know the difference.

9) It’s never too late – yes, it does help to start as early as possible, but you can learn a language really well even later in life (you will just have to work harder at it).

10) Enjoy the journey – relax!  Even if your child doesn’t become perfectly bilingual, they will still have a passive language base that they can reactivate and improve at any stage in life.

What experiences have you had in growing up multilingual or raising your children multilingually?  Are there any other top tips you would like to add?

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2 Comments

Filed under Globalization

2 responses to “How to Raise Multilingual Kids

  1. John Thompson

    Dear Sanda, as the child of Irish parents I grew up in Zimbabwe and Zambia and also spent two years in N. Ireland. I studied in South Africa and discovered a foreign language – Afrikaans, a localised version of Nederlands with a 400 year history. After pouring scorn on the language and associating Afrikaans speakers with Apartheid I married an Afrikaner – that will teach me. We decided to raise our children in their mother’s tongue based on our view that a conceptual world view needs to be built first in one language. This has worked well four our children who are 26 and 23. My one condition was that they take English at the highest grade at high school (Afriaans medium schools) and my daughter did her Master’s degree at an English medium university. Both are now bilingual in the old South African jargon. This approach worked for us, and my daughter lives in Mozambique and is learning Portuguese with relative ease. Best wishes, John

    • sandaion6

      Thank you for your comment, John. And you prove the point also that it is never too late to learn a foreign language, especially if you are ‘immersed’ in it. Although my mother claims that, at the age of 65, Swedish is proving a step too far for her!

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