Bilingual Children - Week #5

Our Bilingual Week

Welcome to week FIVE of Bilingual Children! Last week I spoke with lots of mums raising bilingual children and asked them to share their challenges. They were kind enough to be honest about the hurdles that they face and this week I’ve asked them to tell me about the different approaches that they use. 

Some families prefer a structured approach and others more relaxed. Think carefully about which category your family fits into, you can always try one method and if it doesn’t work switch to another. I recommend that you don’t do this too many times because most children love consistency.

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Think about what your children do anyway on a weekly basis and if you know that they like the structure of certain activities they might also like a structured approach to the language learning. Children often like to know there is a rule to follow such as which language they speak with whom. Or maybe it works better that you all speak the minority language but always in a certain location.

We've always used the OPOL method so I speak English to my children and my Husband speaks to them in Italian. If I say something in Italian I get told off now as they are used to only speaking to me in English even if they know I understand Italian.

Using the minority language at home though is thought to be one of the best ways to teach children a language. Obviously you need everybody to be able to speak it, so this is dependent on whether it will alienate one of the parents or one of the family members if you do so.

First of all let’s have a look at the comments from mothers raising Bilingual Children who like to use structure in their learning.

Structured approach

"My main piece of advice to families who are undertaking the bilingual journey is to explicitly set your personal goals, in accordance with your children's needs and with the resources you are willing to invest. Bilingualism is a great asset for children and it's been proven as beneficial for their development. Set routines to expose children regularly to the minority language and try to network with other families speaking it. Since meaningful interaction is the way to language learning, work to create social opportunities with other speakers, preferably in different contexts to provide a rich vocabulary. For example read books to your children; play board games with them; take part in local associations of the minority culture; organise play dates with other children speaking the language; subscribe to age-appropriate magazines from the minority language country; if possible, plan regular trips to the target country.
There may be hard periods or resistance , don't give up! You will find great support and motivation in the community of parents of bilingual children, and surely a great deal of practical advice".  Paola: Instagram: @theelephantmum

"For us it's about the long term benefits and being consistent. Matteo has always felt so strongly about the boys being able to speak Italian and he has always spoken to them in only Italian, read to them, made them watch TV and films in Italian. We have seen the biggest improvement over the last 12-18 months I would say, especially since spending four weeks in Italy last summer. It has taken six years and they understand everything but speaking is still challenging. At some point we would like them to start writing in Italian but we are concentrating on the English first for school.  I think it's an ongoing learning curve and that is ok, they are still so young".   Laura  Instagram: @mummylauretta 

"I'm French and I am raising my children in French and English. English is their first language but they all understand French. It was rather simple with my first baby: I would speak French only to him and my husband would speak English. It has been a lot more challenging with my three girls, as they had siblings who would speak to them in English when I was addressing them in French, or even translate for them. The girls' understanding is good, but their fluency in speaking their second language is not as good as my first born at the same age". Mel   Instagram: @lecoindemel

"We lived in Paris for two years and sent our children to a bilingual school. After two years the kids were pretty much fluent, switching easily between French and English. Now we are back in London I am trying to keep their spoken French alive. A friend who is French, he comes and has speaks to our children in French once a week. My son's best friend's Dad is French and will speak to my son in French. We're trying hard to keep the language alive for them. Speaking another language is an amazing gift. Alas, even after weekly French tuition in Paris, I never got to that level of French, but I achieved what I called get by French!".   Instagram: @tootingmama

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Relaxed bilingual parenting

"We are raising our children English and French (my Husband is half French). We have found that each child is so different so my tip would be to really try to work with your child as an individual . My eldest (7) he knows very little and has had no real interest in learning it until recently when he started school so for him we are adding words in where we think he won't notice. My second (3) has a great level of French for her age but she will only speak to Daddy in French when I am not there and really doesn't like speaking to me in French so I have her 'translate' for me. My third (2) she is our French baby as she swaps languages all the time and doesn't care who she is talking French to". Carol Clarke  Instagram: @ajourneytoalifetime

"I am half Greek and although Lily is only 3 I have already started teaching her Greek. She can say a few key phrases already".  

"I am French, married to an Irish man, and we live on the east coast of Ireland with our four bilingual children. I have always spoken French to them, my easy excuse being that I don't know how to do baby talk in English! Also my family in France would never have forgiven me if my kids didn't speak French!

All four have picked it up pretty well, but because we live in an English-speaking country, their English is much stronger than their French, especially in terms of vocabulary. I have to watch myself too, as I often resort to English to talk to them, as the words come easier and quicker than in French. We spend spend our summers with my family in France, and their French always improves exponentially over those few weeks. The funny thing is, their English also improves as a result!" Annette  Instagram: @four_acorns

Buon Mercoledi - Happy Wednesday! 

As you can see there are ways to make language learning suit your family. Once you’ve found your method stick with it, even if it’s a rule as simple as using your desired language in the car when you’re driving to school.

Children are great at adapting to these invisible rules and it becomes natural for them very quickly. Remember that with children under the age of three, they may not speak very much in any language at this age. So please do not lose heart and think because they haven’t spoken the minority language it's not working.

They will be developing an innate understanding of what you are saying but they just will not be able to put it into words themselves yet or have the confidence to do so. 

Next week we will have the last post from our wise mothers of bilinguals. They will be giving tips on how to keep the faith, personal expat experiences and the reasons why, (disregarding learning words) we feel it’s important for our children to learn our languages.

Hurry back next week to read to find out more!

Ciao ciao!


Bilingual Children 5