When raising children in a multiracial family, there are often also two or more family languages for the kids to learn. Contrary to a common belief, children do not pick up languages “as sponges”, nor does it happen by magic – but kids do become bi/multilingual when the circumstances are right. For your child to have the best chance to pick up those family languages and maintain the ability to communicate with extended family, there are certain habits that you as a parent can implement into your daily life.
1. Have patience
It always takes patience to create something great – it might feel that your little one takes too long before uttering those first words in your language, putting a sentence together or figuring out which word belongs to which language. Learning a language, never mind two or three languages, is a humongous task and we are all different. Your child (like my younger daughter) might belong to those who need to take more time to get ready to speak. However, if you are concerned, speak to a language therapist who is used to dealing with bilingual children.
Also, remember to have patience on those days when you think that you are not on track with your language plan for your kids. [perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]It is not a personal attack on you if they respond in the “wrong” language, nor does it mean that they have given up on the language.[/perfectpullquote]
Circumstances change and it is important that you change with them if need be – by increasing the amount of language exposure, staying even more consistent in your language use or asking for support from other speakers of your language.
Make patience a habit.
2. Give positive feedback
Show your appreciation when your child makes progress in speaking your language. Make it clear how happy it makes you that you can communicate in your language. Try not to let your feelings come to the surface at those moments when you feel that all is not going as well as you would like.
Think about what spurs your child on and use this to your advantage when coming up with ways to motivate your child to stick to your language. You cannot bribe your way through the learning phase, but it may well make some tricky situations easier to overcome.
Make giving positive feedback a habit.
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3. Keep reading
Read those bedtime stories and make sure you have a lot of reading material available in your language. When you feel you have read all your books more often than there are pages in them, check your local library or do book swaps with other families. If you live far away from where your language is spoken as a majority language, and you are unable to find books in your language, you can also find stories online.
You can also ask others for help with the reading. Arrange online calls with the grandparents (or other relatives or friends) during which they read different books – maybe some that they remember from their childhood.
Make reading a habit.
4. Chat away
Talk to your child – get used to speaking to your baby about everything that you are doing. Ideally, start this habit before your child is born (be prepared for some odd looks if you do it out in the public, though). Speak about anything, be it chores, gardening, shopping, holiday plans or the neighbour’s cat.
Some research has found that chatting a lot to your child can be equally effective as reading when it comes to language and general cognitive development. So especially on those days when you know, there will be no chance for a story time, make sure to chat away throughout the day.
Make chatting to your child a habit.
5. Have more fun
“What you learn without joy, you forget without trouble” is a Finnish proverb which very much applies to children learning a family language. Associating your language with fun things to do will be a strong motivating factor for your child to learn it and keep on speaking it. Establish routines when you play certain games only in your language, or weave word play exercises into your daily life.
Make having more fun a habit.
Good luck on your family’s multilingual journey!
This is an updated version of a post which was previously published on the author’s website at www.multilingualparenting.com where you can find a wealth of information.
The views and opinions expressed by columnists are their own and may or may not represent those of theParentVoice.com or its team.