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Back Helping Your Child Succeed Raising Bilingual Children

Raising Bilingual Children

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Growing up with more than one language has many advantages in today's global village. Bilingual kids have the advantage of knowing two cultures, being able to communicate with a wider variety of people, and having possible economic advantages in their future. Research has even shown advantages in thinking skills among bilingual individuals. Yet bilingualism isn't something that just simply happens. Raising kids to be successful in more than one language requires careful planning and presentation.

The first step that parents who would like to raise their kids bilingually need to take is to discuss their language development goals for their kids. Do you want your children to simply understand two languages or do you want them to be able to use the two languages on a daily basis. Once the language goals are established, parents need to talk about how bilingualism will be achieved for their children. You will need to decide which language strategies will be used by each parent, what language is being taught at school, and what areas need to be emphasized outside of school. By discussing these issues and agreeing on strategies that will be used, your kids will acquire higher levels of language skills in both languages presented.

Another area on which you will have to agree is the method for achieving bilingualism in your children. Researchers have defined two types of childhood bilingualism- simultaneous bilingualism and sequential bilingualism. Simultaneous bilingualism is when children learn two languages at the same time while in successive bilingualism children have one language established before learning a second language, whether in preschool or later. However, it has been noted that the age of three usually separates simultaneous and sequential language learning, and while most of us are able to learn a second language at any time in our lives, and no critical age for bilingual language development has been found, kids do tend to develop more native-like pronunciation when bilingualism begins before adolescence.

Experts stress separating the languages to make language acquisition easier for kids. When kids are learning two languages at the same time parents need to work out language strategies that emphasize boundaries between the languages. Some of the approaches they recommend are:

•    One parent, one language. Each parent consistently speaks one language while the other parent speaks another language (usually each one speaking his or her native language to the child and possibly the common language to each other).

•    Both parents speak one language in the home and a second language is used at school.

•    One language is used in the home and at school and the second language is used in the community.

•    Both parents speak both languages to the child but separate the languages according to speaking situations or alternate days.

Experts also emphasize that consistency is key in early language learning. If parents mix languages in the same conversation, young kids experience difficulty separating vocabulary and grammar into the appropriate language. The child may learn the "mixed" language as one hybrid language.

Raising bilingual children is appealing to more and more families these days but deciding to raise kids bilingually should be carefully considered as it will affect children for the rest of their lives. Parents need to do their research and plan their children’s bilingual development carefully. Becoming bilingual is a special gift parents can give their children, but the gift must be presented with care for it to be useful.

 

 


Elizabeth Hamilton, M.Ed, MA, is a teacher with 22 years of professional experience. You can write to her This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with your questions or comments.

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