Raising Children With More Than One Language

Here are a few basic pointers for parents that are important in raising children with more than one language:

  • Do what comes naturally to you and your family in terms of which language(s) you use when, but make sure your children hear both (or all three or four) languages frequently and in a variety of circumstances. Create opportunities for your children to use all of the languages they hear. Read books to and with your children in each of the languages that are important to their lives.
  • Talk to all your children in the same way – not, for instance, using one language with the elder and another language with the younger. Language is tied to emotions, and if you address your children in different languages, some of your children may feel excluded, which in turn might adversely affect their behavior.
  • Avoid abrupt changes in how you talk to your children, especially when they are under six. Don't suddenly decide to speak French to them if you have only been using English. In this respect, beware of "experts" (e.g., doctors, teachers) who tell you to stop speaking a particular language to your child.
  • If you feel strongly about your children using one particular language with you, encourage them to use it in all of their communication with you. Ask them to repeat what they said in the preferred language or gently offer them the appropriate words in the language you want them to use. It is no more cruel than asking your child to say "please" before giving her a cookie.
  • Do not make language an issue, and do not rebuke or punish children for using or not using a particular language. If you feel your child is not talking as he or she should in the preschool years, have a hearing test done, even if teachers or doctors tell you that bilingualism is the cause of any language delays.
  • Whatever else, follow your own intuition about what is best for you and your family.

Citations

Excerpted from: De Houwer, A. (July, 1999). Two or More Languages in Early Childhood Some General Points and Practical Recommendations. ERIC Digest. ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics.

References

Romaine, S., (1995). Bilingualism (2nd ed). London: Blackwell.

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