Language skills are among the most important things your child will learn in the early stages. Of course, learning a single language can be difficult enough – learning two at the same time can be even trickier. However, the reasons for working on it are plentiful, including the fact that bilingual kids often have an easier time of solving problems as they mature – a skill that will usually remain with them well into old age.
Regardless of the reasons for choosing for your child to be bilingual, these tips have been selected to ease the process and make it less daunting than it might appear at first glance.
1. Start as Early as You Can
There’s no better time than straight after birth to start work on language skills, and that goes for both monolingual and bilingual kids. It is widely agreed that while the youngest children won’t show many signs of success very early on, they are fully capable of learning one or more languages virtually right away.
2. Focus on Active Learning
While children and adults alike can improve their knowledge of a language by watching television and listening to music, nothing beats a genuinely active approach. Games, books, toys and other activities will all work well regardless of age and, if your focus is a child that can speak two languages, ensure that you provide these activities in every language you’d like them to learn and, for the most part, in equal measure.
3. Decide on an Approach and Remain Consistent
One of the best things any parent can do when teaching their child is to remain consistent, and this is every bit as important when learning two different languages at the same time as in any other pursuit. One way to work out how to do this is to consider why your child is bilingual. If each parent speaks a different language, consistency can come from them sticking to their preferred language in the home, even if they themselves are bilingual. Parents can potentially achieve similar results by using one language at home and another outside – often the language in which your child will be schooled is a great way to work something out for this one.
4. Set Boundaries Between Languages
If you’re bilingual, the chances are you can switch between both languages at will. That skill will come in time for your child, but in the learning and development stage, you should attempt to keep them both separate. As long as you continue to utilise both available languages, you’ll find that neither language becomes more dominant than the other unless you force it to.
5. Embrace Mistakes
Ah, mistakes. We all make them, and it’s easy to forget the rules when you help your child with their language skills. If you get hung up on any errors you might make, you’ll find yourself doing just about anything but the promotion of learning. If you attempt to devote a single language to each parent, you’ll find yourself slipping up in conversations between the three of you on occasion. That doesn’t matter and often presents an opportunity as much as a problem.
6. Consider Boosting the Weaker Language through Fun Activities
You don’t need us to tell you that kids are more likely to enjoy and get involved with something when it’s fun, and that can be the perfect opportunity for whichever you consider as the secondary language. That’s often the one that isn’t spoken locally where you live. This can be as simple as finding entertaining shows for kids in the second language or even switching out one of their favourites for an alternative dub from another country.
7. Check Schooling Options
There are some language combinations where you effectively have no hope of promoting language in school. However, if your two languages of choice are internationally popular, one school may be better than others to help achieve your goals. While a simple example, if your two languages of choice are English and French, a school that offers both options will outdo one that focuses on English and Spanish.
8. Ensure Relevance
At some point in the process, you need to consider just how useful the second or, in some cases, the third language will be to your child’s development. You’re the best judge of how much of a language they need to know, at least until they reach a certain level of proficiency, so avoid overcomplicating things by potentially introducing more than they need to know.
9. Let Them Make Mistakes
We spoke earlier about how you’ll make mistakes, and it goes without saying that your child will too. It can be tempting to pick them up on every mistake they make – some parents believe that this is the best way to ensure that they learn correctly. However, too many corrections can knock their confidence and potentially put them off learning everything they need to in a fun, carefree environment. Stick to major errors only and constructively approach corrections. Rather than pointing out that something they’ve said or written is wrong, take the opportunity to rephrase it for them so that they can remember the correct statement or sentence going forward.
10. Measure and Reward Progress
The best way to work towards a goal is to set targets. That way, you know what you’ve achieved and what requires further work. Don’t feel like it’s down to you to make your child fluent before they even start school, but think about what constitutes good development, or read a guide on the subject. When you and your child feel like progress is being made, you can check off a goal and treat yourselves to something special and memorable to both of you. For you, that ensures an immense sense of satisfaction, and for them, it means excellent motivation to keep on going and achieving more.