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Back Helping Your Child Succeed Common questions about raising bilingual children

Common questions about raising bilingual children

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WHEN I wrote last week about raising bilingual kids, I had no idea that it would generate such interest from so many parents and grandparents in the community who would like for the children in their families to be bilingual or even multilingual. I received more email last week than ever before. Since there were so many similar questions, I decided to share with all of you some of the more common ones that were asked.
  • When is the right time to start teaching a second language to my children?  Although starting from birth is the easiest way for your children to start learning, and for you to start teaching a second language or languages, there is no “right time” to start. However, the longer you wait to do so, the more difficult it becomes. So, even if your children or teenagers are only speaking one language right now, today is the perfect time to add the second.
  • Shouldn’t my child learn one language first and then teach another one later because they’ll get confused with too many languages? That is a common misconception many people have. Actually, studies have shown that children are capable of learning multiple languages at the same time. Additionally, these studies have concluded that learning languages simultaneously is much easier for both children and parents.
  • If I teach my children two languages simultaneously, won’t they mix them together? I often hear children mixing two languages when they are speaking to each other. Yes, some mixing will occur. It’s called “code switching” but it is normal, harmless, and temporary. As your children increase their vocabulary in each language and learn the grammatical structure of each language better, the mixing will automatically stop. It will happen just like when monolingual children automatically fix the grammatical errors they make after learning the correct usage. Also, the less you mix the languages yourself and the more consistent you are when speaking to your children, the less they will mix.
  • How many languages can I teach my child at once?  The number of languages you choose to teach to your children depends upon what you want to accomplish with multilingualism and the practical elements of your household. Do you want to share the native language of your family or help your children learn a foreign language without having to study it in school? Can someone within the immediate family provide meaningful language exposure in another language? Do you live in an area where there are a lot of speakers of the foreign language? Usually, the number of languages within a household is the number of languages that can be taught. Most parents develop bilingualism for their children because usually there is only one foreign language in the home. On the other hand, when each parent speaks a different foreign language, they may teach those two and the community language to their children. Researchers have discovered that the success rate for achieving multilingualism beyond four simultaneous languages starts to fall significantly because a child needs to be exposed to a language 30 percent of their waking time. Regardless of how many languages you choose to teach your children, they will need regular exposure to it.
  • Isn’t it sometimes too late to start learning another language?  Although there is a “critical period” for children to learn another language with native-like proficiency, it is never too late for anyone to learn another language. So whether a child is 1 or you’re 101, another language can be mastered. The only area that many do not develop as well in adults as in younger children is pronunciation.

 


Elizabeth Hamilton, M.Ed, MA, is a teacher with 22 years of professional experience. You can write to her at 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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