What Do Children Need to Be Bilingual?

“Children will develop a language if they feel they need it and human interactants create that need.” Francois Grosjean

I’ve met parents who are using all sorts of different approaches to raise their child to be bilingual. And many paths lead to bilingualism. There’s not just one tried and true method out there. There are, however, a few foundational pieces we can have in place on which to build a bilingual household. This applies even to parents who want their child to learn a foreign language-- a language that neither parent speaks.

So, let’s get down to brass tacks!

Children need rich language input in the language(s) they are learning. This means that they hear many words spoken in many different ways. It’s great for children to have repetition in what they’re hearing and this comes during their daily routines and story time. But, we also want to sprinkle in descriptions about how things look, taste, smell, feel (basically tapping into our five senses), a variety of verbs (run, jump, crawl, fly, leap) and using a different location words (under, over, next to, above). A caregiver who uses rich language in the home lays down a solid foundation for building their child’s language. This doesn’t mean you have to walk around with the lexicon of William Wordsworth! It does mean being descriptive with your language. And if you can be descriptive and add some playfulness, your child is more likely to be engaged.

scrumptious, mouthwatering, delectable, heavenly...an example of rich language

Children need to have a need to learn the language. Sometimes it isn’t enough that parents want their child to learn the heritage language or a foreign language. If children don’t have a need for the language, such as needing it for a school situation or to talk to Grandma, they’re less likely to grow that language. We’ll talk about how to strategically create more need in future posts. We’ll also discuss how having a language community won’t just help take the pressure off of you, but it actually increases the probability of your child speaking two languages!

Children need fun. So do adults, although we forget that! But that’s another post for another day. Children will be so much more engaged and interested in speaking and listening if we can add in the fun factor. You don’t have to be a clown or a clown gushing the words of William Wordsworth. You can be yourself. But, if you can notice your child’s interests though and include those in your language learning activities, they’re so much more likely to tune in.

Children need the right tools. Apps and TV programs do have their place. But they don’t replace conversation, play, and books. We’ll talk all about the smart ways to use smart devices in my future posts. I also want to add, if you’re using and abusing technology right now because things are tough (#pandemic), I understand. I don’t want to shame anyone, but I do want you to be aware of what tools will be most helpful and why.

What do you want to know more about when it comes to raising a bilingual child? And what do you feel that you have down? Comment below or email me. I love hearing from families!

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