Children with ability in more than one language bring benefit not only to their own lives, but to the world as well. Because bilingual minds tend to lean toward greater tolerance, bilingual children may in fact play an important role in building a more tolerant world. This could well be the larger legacy of our bilingual journey.
1. Start early
If you’re proactive from the start, you’ll stand a much better chance of nurturing a good balance in the child’s bilingual ability. From birth to age 6 or 7 is a vital time for two reasons: 1) this is the period young brains are most primed for language acquisition, and 2) if the child attends elementary school in the majority language, it grows more difficult to “rebalance” the two languages after that.
2. Set a goal
Set a clear goal for your child’s ability in the minority language. Will you be content with oral fluency, and less concerned with reading and writing? Or is literacy important to you, too, and you’d like to see them read and write at the level of a monolingual child? Whatever your goal is, articulate it, and make sure that your efforts match the goal you seek. Good reading and writing ability are attainable, but this goal will require a diligent commitment from both you and your child.
3. Keep the “core conditions” in mind
The two “core conditions” for successfully fostering language acquisition and active use are exposure and need: the child must receive sufficient exposure to the target language and feel an organic need to use it. If one or both conditions are lacking, the more likely outcome is “passive ability” in that language.
4. Adopt a strategy
How will you use the two languages within your family? Two common strategies are the “one person, one language” approach (where each parent speaks his or her mother tongue) and the “minority language at home” approach (where both parents use the minority language at home and the majority language is acquired from the community). Whatever strategy you choose, the important thing is making sure that the child has a natural need to use the minority language and receives sufficient daily input in that language. The family should then stick consistently to its strategy, unless a change in circumstance warrants a change in approach.
5. Make it fun/ use play
There’s no getting around the fact that raising a bilingual child is a lot of hard work for everyone involved, so it’s vital to make the experience enjoyable, too—to whatever degree you can. It’s an odd balance, but it’s important to be both very serious and very playful at the same time: serious about the process and yet playful when it comes to carrying that process out. Half of this is simply attitude, but the other half involves implementing activities that can nurture language development in a lighthearted way.
6. Talk, talk, talk to your child
Research has shown a correlation between the volume of speech spoken by parents to their children in the earliest years and the child’s language ability at a later age. In other words, the sheer quantity of speech directed at the child by the parents and caregivers from birth to age 3 has a tremendous impact on language development.
7. Read aloud every day
Reading aloud to your child in the minority language, for at least 15 minutes each day, is a vital practice when it comes to nurturing good bilingual ability. It may seem too simple, but reading aloud regularly has an enormous impact on a child’s language development as well as their interest in books and literacy.
8. Build a home library
You can’t read aloud to your child regularly if you don’t have suitable books in the minority language, including chapter books that come in series of 5 or 15 or even 25+ books. The costs can add up quickly, but in the long run, books are a small investment, really, when the eventual payoff in good language ability is so great. Cut back in other areas of your budget, if you must, but don’t scrimp when it comes to putting children’s books in your home. (Make use of the public library!)
9. Use comic books
Research shows that comic books have effectively fueled literacy development and a love of reading for many, many people, thereby fostering the competence and confidence to then read “real books,” too. And because bilingual children may not be eager to read in the minority language during their limited free time, the powerful appeal of comic books can help motivate them and advance their literacy development.
10. Subscribe to magazines
Children’s magazines, if available in the target language, are another useful resource that should not be overlooked. Subscriptions to colorful, kid-friendly magazines are generally quite reasonably priced, even with the additional fee for international mailing. To help boost exposure and interest in the minority language, a steady stream of magazines is recommended. (Here’s a good Korean children’s magazine, titled ‘The Whale Said So’ 고래가 그랬어)
11. Commit to “captive reading”
To encourage literacy development and reading practice in the target language, you can take advantage of the phenomenon called “captive reading”: the natural tendency to read any words that fall under our gaze. Put posters of the writing system and common words on the wall; label things in the house; include notes in your child’s lunchbox; put up a small whiteboard in the bathroom and write little messages and riddles on it; later on, post short stories in the bathroom, too.
12. Use background music
Making use of music in the minority language is an easy and effective way to consistently add to the language exposure your child receives. This is no substitute for your active involvement, of course, but background music can be one more beneficial component of your overall efforts. Just put a CD player and suitable CDs in the child’s main play space and play this music regularly. Your kids will probably soon start singing along!
13. Play games together
Games in the minority language—like board games, card games, word games, and storytelling games—are another resource to gather for your home. Children love to play games, and there are no doubt good games available in your target language that would be fun to play and are effective in promoting language exposure.
14. Enrich your home with exposure
Beyond books, music, and games, make your home as rich in exposure to the minority language as you can. At the same time, try to inhibit, to whatever degree makes sense for your family, the prevailing influence of the majority language. For example, when it comes to electronic toys and apps, resources in the minority language would probably be a more productive choice than those in the majority language. In the same way, emphasize TV shows and DVDs in the minority language, too.
15. Fuel natural passions
Make an effort to fuel your child’s passions via resources and opportunities in the minority language. If your son loves super heroes, or your daughter loves horses, seek out suitable books or DVDs on these subjects in the target language. In this way you’ll be nurturing their natural passions and language ability at the same time. Depending on where you live, you might also have access to opportunities in the minority language—like classes, clubs, or other activities—that connect to a child’s special interests.
16. Engage in storytelling
Tell your children true stories from your childhood—kids love to hear about the (mis)adventures of their parents when they were young. You can also invent fantastical “made-up memories” from your past or your children’s early years. (Kids like telling “made-up memories,” too.) The point is, storytelling—whether fact or fiction—can help expand and enrich the conversations you have with your children, and are especially suited for mealtimes.
17. Give written homework
If fostering good reading and writing ability in the minority language is important to you, it’s best to establish a habit of homework early. If you begin giving small daily doses of homework at the age of 3 or 4—starting, for example, with simple dot-to-dot books or other light activity books—this can set a positive pattern for the rest of their childhood. Make daily homework like teeth-brushing—an expected habit—and it can be maintained far more easily than if you try to impose it later on. As with children’s literature, you must make efforts to seek out suitable materials on a regular basis.
18. Reach out to grandparents
Many families with bilingual children live far away from grandparents. In that case, try to bridge this distance and strengthen ties between the kids and the grandparents in these three ways: 1) Share photos and video clips online to bring the two generations closer; 2) Arrange video chats so they can communicate with one another; and 3) Facilitate a letter exchange by post. These efforts not only help nurture the loving bond between them, they give a regular boost to the children’s language ability and stronger sense of roots in the minority language.
19. Use the language to help others
As important as it is to deepen the child’s feeling for the value of their language skill through interactions with other speakers of the language, an additional way of promoting this sense of value that may be even more powerful is to create opportunities where the child can help others by using their minority language ability. For instance, you and the kids could volunteer to help people who are learners of the minority language. They will come to realize that their language ability is not only useful to themselves, but is helpful to others, and this will serve as an even deeper, richer source of motivation.
20. Travel when you can
Trips to places where the minority language is spoken widely can be one of the most powerful ways of promoting language development and cultural understanding. Some parents even report a profound shift in their children’s progress as a result of such experiences. Although costs and other considerations might prevent frequent travel, even occasional trips can be a big boost to your usual efforts.
21. Get creative
Our mission, essentially, is to match our efforts to the ever-evolving needs of our circumstances. As our children grow, and our circumstances change, we must respond to those changes with new solutions so that our children’s bilingual development can continue its strong, steady course. To meet this challenge effectively each time, creative thinking is vital. The wider our minds can imagine and create—seeking unconventional solutions, too—the better we’ll be at providing suitable, ongoing support.
22. Give time and attention
Our children will be little only once, and even then, for barely a blink. Whatever your circumstances, do all that you can to give time and attention to your kids while they’re small. Not only do they need the language support that you can provide, they need, above all, your love. It isn’t always easy to stop in the middle of something when your child interrupts, or answer yet another curious question without irritation, but it’s worth making the effort—every time—in order to promote your child’s bilingual ability and deepen the bond between you as parent and child.
Remember this quote from Crystal DeLarm Clymer: “When your child is talking, turn off the world.”
Oh, and last but not least: Parents… may you persist and persevere, like sticky dduk.
(Source: Adam Beck@ bilingualmonkeys.com/my-best-tips-for-raising-bilingual-kids/)