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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


Raising Bilingual Children - Boosting Brain Power with Language Training

By Andrew Loh

The basic term balanced bilingualism means individuals possessing fluency in two different spoken languages. A child who is a bilingual may be very strong in one spoken language than the other. However, the ability to speak in the other language may be better than a child who speaks just one language. In other words, the degree of sophistication with which the child speaks the second language is better than the child who speaks in a similar language, though as only and main language.

Raising a bilingual child is not so easy. However, things become easier when the parents speak in two different languages. For example, a child may have parents belonging to two language groups or nationalities. The father may speak Chinese very fluently while the mother may be very vocal in French. The child that grows in such a home gets all the best opportunities to speak in both languages. However, the dominant language that the child learns to speak will be the mother's tongue. This is because of the proximity of the child with his or her mother. In fact, the mother will nurture her child for more than 8 years almost on her lap. This proximity may compel the child to learn his or her mother's language more than the father's.

Whatever the case, teaching your children two languages is still very difficult. You may never teach it intentionally and you do not teach with a definite purpose. Learning language comes automatically to children. However, teaching two languages takes some time and effort. In addition, children will learn language effortlessly when parents give them enough time and exposure to the language. There are two types of bilingualism at home:

The first one is the simultaneous learning of two different languages at home that is affected by four important issues:

  1. At time, patents may speak in just one language, which is usually the language that is spoken at the home. These parents may not be able to speak in the language that the school or the community speaks.

  2. Are the parents using the language that they speak with their children? Usually, parents may make decision as to which language they would be using at their home.

  3. In some homes, grandparents may speak entirely a different language that might make things difficult for the parents.

  4. The language spoken in the community is yet another factor that influences the language that your child will learn in the future. For example, in Canada, the major language spoken in some areas of the country is French and children usually learn it faster than other languages spoken at home. In fact, children living in such areas may even learn to speak three languages! One is definitely French, the second is English, while the third could be a different language spoken by one or two of the parents.

The second class of bilingualism is the successive bilingualism. This occurs when the child learns one language first and become proficient in it before learning the second language either at the school or in the community. This phase occurs when the child is about four years old and in many cases, the new language is acquired within the school, where the child attends the language class.

Note: Childhood is a critical time because parents should take time to discuss about the goals for language development. They may need to assess and evaluate how they should create a strategy to teach two languages to their children.

Here is a workable strategy to teach two languages to your children:

Before teaching two languages to your children, you may wish to separate them from each other so that they can acquire the ability in an easy to going manner. Here is an example:

  • Single parent and single language - Each parent speaks his or her own language while they may use the most common one, English, to converse with the children.

  • Two parents and one language - Each parent uses a single language that is common to both of them while the child may learn a different language used in the community and within the school.

  • A common language is used both in the home and at the school while the child may learn a separate language that is used in the community.

  • Both parents may use both languages used by both of them while the child is made to speak in both languages on pre-defined days, such as alternate days of the week.

Additional Tips

  • The sooner you children learn a new language, the better will it be for them. All children are extremely receptive at learning new things because their neurological development will much efficient when they are young.

  • Invariably, all children tend to mix up two different languages. Do not worry because it is very common and when they reach five years, they tend to correct their speaking skills.

  • Try to play language games with your children and ask them tell stories in different languages. Let them sing songs in other languages too.

  • Let your children read stories from another language. Let this become a daily habit for them.

  • Your children may want to watch child TV programs in other languages.

  • If you are hiring a babysitter or a nanny, ask them to use their language while speaking to children. This is a wonderful way to teach a different and non-native language to your children.

  • Take your children to a community play group and let your children speak with children who speak in different languages.

  • Children should spend time to practice speaking in new languages.

  • Parents, community and the school are the best places to learn a new language. They learn it by using everyday situations.

  • In many cases, one language may dominate the other because children tend to devote their time to speak in one language better than the other does.

  • Learning should become an emotional experience. Make sure that you use the same language system with all your children. Do not change the pattern.

  • Committing mistakes are common while learning a new language. Language switching is very difficult for most children. Have patience and spend time with your children.

Bilingual children are special because they can easily learn about two different cultures and communicate with others to learn life experiences. These children tend to possess better thinking skills too. In addition, these children would also have better self-esteem, self-confidence and social skills.

Featured Resource

The Bilingual Edge: Why, When, and How to Teach Your Child a Second Language
By Kendall King Ph.D, Alison Mackey Ph.D

In The Bilingual Edge, professors and parents King and Mackey wade through the hype and provide clear insights into what actually works. No matter what your language background is - whether you never passed Spanish in high school or you speak Mandarin fluently - King and Mackey will help you:

  • Select the language that will give your child the most benefits

  • Find materials and programs that will assist your child in achieving fluency

  • Identify and use your family's unique traits to maximize learning

Fancy private schools and expensive materials aren't needed. Instead, The Bilingual Edge translates the latest research into interactive strategies and quick tips that even the busiest parents can use.


Featured Resource


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