Raising Bilingual Kids: Expert Tips from a Parent Who Has Been There

How to Raise a Bilingual Child

As you probably know, being bilingual has many amazing benefits, from increased brain health to higher salaries, and more! You may have also heard that for many people, learning languages is far easier in childhood than it will be in their adult years.

If you’re a parent, or about to become one, you’re probably wondering how to raise a bilingual child. Have no fear, many other parents have embarked on this journey, and they are happy to share their discoveries with you. Even if you don’t speak a second language yourself, you can still help your child grow up bilingual.

So what do you need to know to raise a bilingual child? Adam Beck of Bilingual Monkeys has lots of experience and great advice for doing just that! Here’s Adam…

My best advice for successfully raising a bilingual child, from birth, can be summed up in these three principles…

1. The two “core conditions” for fostering active ability in the minority language are exposure and need.

The child must receive sufficient interactive exposure to the target language (there’s no “magic number,” but a good benchmark for most families seeking active ability would be roughly 25 hours a week), while also feeling an organic need to use that language.

Your aim, for the first few formative years, is to “condition” your child to communicate with you in the minority language by the time he or she begins to speak. And you’ll raise the odds of achieving this if you proactively emphasize that language and “de-emphasize” the majority language.

In other words, the more openly you use the majority language around the child, the more you may undermine his or her need to use the minority language with you. So, although I know it may not be realistic to avoid using the majority language entirely, I would be cautious about how freely you speak that language in front of the child, especially in those early years.

2. Generally speaking, the results of your bilingual quest will be in proportion to how high you make this a priority in your life.

If your sense of priority is high, if you make this aim central to your daily lifestyle, then your approach will be more mindful and proactive. This will result in more persistent and effective efforts, and greater success over time. The reverse of this is also likely true: The lower your sense of priority, the less action you’ll take and the less progress you’ll make. As Gandhi once said (though I don’t think he was talking about raising bilingual kids): “Action expresses priorities.”

3. Flood your home with minority language resources—particularly books—and read aloud to your children every single day, from birth and throughout childhood.

A large home library and a daily read-aloud routine should be the bedrock of your daily efforts to promote the minority language. Again, when it comes to resources, emphasize the minority language and “de-emphasize” the majority language. Assuming the future will bring schooling in the majority language, it’s to your advantage to make the home far richer in minority language resources.

At the same time, talk, talk, talk to your baby in the target language. The more input the child receives through books and speech, the more output he or she will eventually produce.

Adam Beck is the founder of Bilingual Monkeys and The Bilingual Zoo. For many more helpful tips from Adam, see My Best Tips for Raising Bilingual Kids.


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Photo by David D.

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