How to Raise a Bilingual Child

My husband and I have a different first language. We want our little one to be able to speak both of our languages. Currently I speak two languages to my little one at the same time. For example, when I teach him the name of things around the house, such as apple, I normally teach him “Apple” in English and “Ping Guo” in Chinese.  I’ve heard “One Parent One Language” method in raise a bilingual child. However this won’t work in our situation – Hubby can’t understand my first language. Therefore I have to switch back to English when hubby is with us.

By the age of 14-month, our little one is able to babbling sounds like” mama, baba, dada, nana, maba” etc. However he is not able to say a few words besides “mama” and “dada” based on the current health care guideline. I am a little bit worried that he might be delayed in his language development. Also I am not sure if I should only use one language instead of two with my little one. So I talked to a public health nurse about my concerns. The nurse consulted a language pathologist and provided me some recommendations. Here I would like to share them with those moms who are also try to raise a bilingual child at home. Hope this helps. 🙂

Type of Language Learning
  1. Simultaneous Multilingualism – When children learn two or more languages at the same time before they are 3 years of age. This is what we want for our child. Therefore the tips below will focus on learning two languages simultaneously.
  2. Sequential Multilingualism – When children learn a second language after age 3.

For Type One Language Learners (Simultaneous multilingualism), there are normally three stages involved:

  1. Stage 1 – Mixing
    Children may mix the two languages together in words or in short sentences.
  2. Stage 2 – Sorting out separate languages
    Children start linking words and people to different languages around age 2 1/2 years. While learning the different languages children will often memorize and copy sentences and the person’s actions.
  3. Stage 3 – One language becomes the stronger language
    When children use one of the languages more regularly, that language will become the stronger language (dominant one). By age 7 children can usually mange the different languages without difficulty. They should be able to use the right words and grammar of each language.

For Type Two Language Learners (Sequential Multilingualism)

  1. Advantages:
    When children learn a second language after age 3, the children know the basic rules of their first language (by age 3 children are usually able to carry on conversations), which helps them learn more languages.
  2. Disadvantages:
    Learning a language after age 3 takes more time. There is a 3-month “learning to understand the new language” period. After that, children begin to understand the new language. It takes about 2 years to be able to talk comfortable in the new language and 5-7 years to think in it.
How to make language learning clearer (using strategies)

There are examples of strategies you can follow, choose one that appropriate for your family:

  1. Activity-based: 1 activity = 1 language
    Example: Bedtime story is in English; the rest of the day is in French
  2. People-based: 1 person = 1 language
    Example: Mom speaks one language; Dad speaks another language.
  3. Place-based: 1 place = 1 language
    Example: In the house we speak Italian; outside the house we speak English
Balancing Your Child’s Languages

If it is important for you that both languages be strong, it is also important that your child gets equal amounts of stimulation in both languages.

In our case, it would be a mixed People-based – I mainly speak first language to my child; but I also speak English to him when his dad is with us. In the meantime I also teach my boy names of objects in both languages – I am not sure if doing this might confuse him more or it might work if he thinks there are always two names for everything – then it also might take him more time to process everything I teach him hence delay the time he speaks his first word. I think it might be the best way for our family for now but we will see what will happen in a couple of month.

Are you raising a bilingual child? I would love to hear your thoughts and methods to help your child at home. Please share with us in the comments below. Thank you!

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