Whether you’re a single or multilingual family, introducing multiple languages to your child is never out of the question. The benefits of having more than one language are plentiful; this being so, parents often plan on introducing 2 or more languages in the home. Unfortunately, more often than not, families tend to find that this “plan” falls by the wayside, leaving the more dominant language to takeover.
Here are seven steps to help you succeed in raising a bilingual or multilingual child:
1. Have a plan. As a family, decide how you are going to include more than one language within your household. Is one parent going to speak one language and the other going to speak the second? Are both parents going to speak all languages equally? Is everyone going to learn a second language together? There is no right or wrong answer here- every family is different. It’s simply easier to stick to a plan when: a) there is a plan and b) everyone is on board. Most research recommends that in order for a child to be raised bilingually, he or she must hear the second language at least 30% of the time. Evidently, every circumstance is different and any little bit helps, but if possible, do your best to ensure that your plan involves daily exposure to both/all languages in some way or another.
2. Take advantage of today’s technology. Languages have never been as easily accessible as they are today. With a simple search of the web, movies, TV shows, songs, and games can be found in many different languages. You can even YouTube stories being read in another language. Technology is especially key for monolingual parents hoping to expose their child to a second language. It’s worth your time to do a search for kids language channels; some great examples are: “FIESTIKIDS” for learning Spanish and “Monde des Titounis” for learning French. . Duolingo is a very popular app, for adults and children alike, and you can use it to learn the basic vocabulary for almost any language around the world.
3. Find others who speak the language. You and your child are much more likely to use your second or third language if you have other people to speak it with. Hire a babysitter or plan play dates with other children who speak the language. Don’t know anyone who speaks it? Take advantage of today’s social media and ask around on local parenting Facebook groups. You’ll probably find other families who are in the same boat. Websites like https://www.meetup.com/ are handy for gathering people with common interests. You can create your own group or join an existing one. Follow this link for a variety of Language-based Meetups throughout Ottawa.
4. Look for activities within your community. Whether it be a drop-in playgroup, story time at a library, or a Mommy/Daddy & Me language class, social, language-based activities will create a comfortable and engaging learning environment for your child. Participating in activities such as these will also provide you with the opportunity to find other families eager to learn the same language. Follow this link for a variety of family events held by Ottawa’s Public Library. If you’re looking for Mommy/Daddy & Me French programs, 123 Petits Pas will be holding a variety of French programs for parents and their little ones throughout Ottawa come February, 2018. If it’s another foreign language you’re looking for, Google search for that language within Ottawa and you’re sure to find a community. Here is a link to Ottawa’s Italian community.
5. Make language learning fun. The key to having your child learn a language is to ensure that they enjoy themselves while doing so. It’s important to not make one language seem like “work”. Read, play, and sing with your child. If you don’t have many books in the language you’re hoping to expose your child to, check out the books & resources offered at your local public library. You can also order books, music, and toys in different languages from various online stores. Amazon offers Kindle eBooks in a variety of languages, and Leapfrog has a great selection of educational toys in English, French, and Spanish.
6. Expose them early. Although it’s never too late to learn a language, the earlier the better. Bilingual/multilingual parents sometimes choose to wait until a child begins to speak to introduce a second or third language, and monolingual parents often wait until the first day of school to expose their child to a second language. However, infants begin learning sounds and language patterns very early on in life; as a result, the earlier a child is exposed to a language, the more quickly he or she will be able to pick it up. Also, the sooner you get into the habit of using multiple languages in your home, the more likely you will be to carry through with it.
7. Persevere. Note that the title of this article isn’t “7 Easy Steps to Raising a Bilingual/Multilingual Child” and that is because it’s no easy task! Failing to complete step #5 is often the reason behind discouragement. If you find you and your child need some encouragement, plan a language-based excursion as a reward: plan to visit a cultural festival (Ottawa is renown for its many festivals!) , go to Gatineau and watch a movie in French, visit a museum or a tourist attraction and take a tour in your chosen language, visit a bakery, ice cream, or coffee shop and allow your child a treat if they can order in their second language- the possibilities are endless! Teaching multiple languages requires a lot of determination and effort on your part; however, there could not be a more valuable way to use your energy.Your success will be one of the greatest gifts you will ever give to your children and they will surely thank you for it one day.