How to Raise a Bilingual Child?

confidence building activities for kids 2 young kids holding hands, smiling, at sunset

Do you ever wonder what the job market is going to be like in 20 years? Are you worried that you’re not teaching your children marketable career skills?

One of the best ways to “failure-proof” your children is to teach them another language. People who are bilingual can command higher salaries, sometimes up to 20% more than their monolingual counterparts.

If you would like to raise bilingual children, this article’s for you. We’ll cover the most effective ways to help your kids grow into successful, intercultural communicators.

Benefits of Being Bilingual

There are more than 350 languages spoken in different parts of the country, ranging from Chinese to Spanish to Arabic. There are also less-common languages including Indonesian, Thai, and 150 Native American languages.

One of the biggest benefits of learning a new language is that your child can make new friends and get an insider’s perspective on another culture.

Other major benefits of bilingualism include:

  • Enhanced creativity due to learning new concepts
  • Greater empathy and respect for cultural differences
  • Willingness to try new foods
  • Potential for travel in high school and college

Bilingual adults may also have a lower risk of developing dementia.

Kids are naturally curious about languages and you may be surprised by their motivation to learn. They may have learned a few words of Spanish from television or they may have a friend at school who speaks another language at home.

The question is not whether to raise bilingual children, but how to get started.

Start With Sign Language

Step one in how to raise a bilingual child is to start as young as possible. When they’re infants, try to play music in the language you’d like them to learn. Take some time each day and speak to them in that language as well.

Before toddlers can speak, however, they can use sign language. No matter which spoken language you’d like them to learn, sign language will help them discover the concept of language at an earlier age.

You can start by teaching your baby the American Sign Language signs for “finished” and “more.” These will be easy signs to learn because they’re naturally connected to feeding time.

You may also want to teach “drink,” “eat,” “sleep,” and “hungry.”

Most parents start signing with their kids at around the six-month mark. Younger than that and your baby may not be interested.

The best thing about sign language is that it allows you to communicate with your children before they can talk. Infants and toddlers, who are able to tell you when they’re hungry and tired? Now that’s a real game-changer.

Make Time for Language Learning

If you want to raise a bilingual child, it’s important to prioritize the new language. Many parents feel that they can’t teach their kids a language, but that’s totally untrue.

The truth is that we all teach our kids to speak English fluently by the time they’re in kindergarten. Kids grow and mature in a language by making mistakes, spending time watching TV and movies, and talking with adults.

There are a few popular ways to teach foreign languages for children including

  • speaking the target language at home, which will help the child immerse themselves in another language without distractions
  • speaking to each parent in their parent’s native language, even though they may mix languages together on their path to fluency
  • attending after-school programs or summer school, getting the chance to read and speak the language for days or weeks at a time
  • having the entire family learn a new language together, building confidence as they see you “mess up” and try again

Bilingual kids may take longer to master both languages but it’s vital to expose them to a variety of learning opportunities. It’s important to be patient and keep giving them exposure to both languages.

If your children seem burned out on language learning, it’s always okay to take a few days off. Language acquisition doesn’t need to be stressful.

Learning Opportunities for Long-Term Success

The best thing about raising a bilingual child is seeing them interact with the outside world. One way to encourage your kids in the language-learning process is to give them a chance to use their skills.

If there is a group of native speakers in your hometown, take your kids there for a visit. You might practice some vocabulary words and phrases with them before you go, just to make them more comfortable.

You might take them to a church, an after-school language class at the high school, or even a nursing home. Make sure that they don’t feel pressured to be perfect and stay close by in case you need to translate.

Another way to spark your kids’ enthusiasm is to take them on a trip. It doesn’t have to be a long trip but they should know they’re not going to speak English at all.

Immersion experiences help kids learn how to be flexible with their language skills and can take away their fear of the unknown. Learning a new language can be exhausting and requires concentration.

Immersion helps kids relax and “develop an ear” for the language they’re committed to learning.

Pro Tips To Raise Bilingual Children

If you want to raise bilingual children, it’s never too late to start. Even if they’re in high school, there are still learning opportunities online and in the community.

If your teen is willing to travel, they might like to spend a school semester in another country. They’ll take classes in the target language and stay with a host family, giving them a chance to master a new language.

Working abroad is also a good option for older teens.

Another great way for kids to learn a new language is to get a pen pal from another country. They will broaden their view of the world and make a new friend at the same time.

Now that you know about bilingual language learning, come check out our other blogs. We’ve got the insider’s guide to everything from relationships to travel to DIY home improvement.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a husband, father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

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