The Bi/Multilingual Child: Tips For Success by Salima Qureshi

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Raising a bi/multilingual child and creating a bi/multilingual home is hard-work!  The key is to remain CONSISTENT and CONFIDENT.  This is quite a task when you are the parent speaking the “minority” language or the language other than the language spoken in the country where you live. Here are a few basic points to consider:

Create a natural and language-rich environment.  You and your family should use whichever language(s) comes naturally.  Remember to use all languages frequently and across a variety of settings and circumstances.  Be a good listener and provide good language models by introducing rich vocabulary and varied conversations.  Fill your home with books, music, and even videos in all languages spoken.

Talk to all your children using the same languages, 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 younger than six years of age. Don’t suddenly decide to speak Italian 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.

Children should not be forced into bilingualism if it really does make them unhappy. 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. Try to discourage their use of another language with you by asking them to repeat what they said in the preferred language or by gently offering them the appropriate words in the language you want them to use.

Be consistent with the pattern you choose, stick to it. Although children can learn two languages in what seems like chaos, a reasonable amount of consistency will make their job, and yours, simpler. Once children learn the pattern they are often disturbed when a parent breaks it.

The more you can make bilingualism seem like a natural and unremarkable part of family life, the more likely it is that your children will grow up to enjoy being bi/multilingual, and the more likely it is that you will succeed in keeping both languages active in your home. Do not make language an issue, and do not rebuke or punish children for using or not using a particular language.

Do not mix the languages. If you mix languages in the same conversation, young kids experience difficulty separating vocabulary and grammar into the appropriate language. The child may learn the “mixed” language as one hybrid language.

Every child’s language development is unique. Children learn languages at different speeds. This is related to a variety of factors, such as the length of time your family remains in the community that uses the second language, relationships with your family members who speak the second language and attitudes toward each language expressed by parents, school, community and especially your child. Both languages must be given importance and a sense of worth in all aspects of your child’s life.

I have a MS and am a practicing  Speech-Language Pathologist  If you have concerns or  any questions regarding your child’s speech-language development, please do not hesitate to contact me via email: sqslp@hotmail.com

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1 reply »

  1. Thank you for the information! I am wondering if you can offer advice when there are three languages in the mix… I am American, my husband Danish, and we are living in Italy for at least the next three years. Our son was 10 months old when we arrived and is now 19 months. He isn’t speaking yet and I do feel that it is because of having three languages on an almost daily basis. We always planned him to be raised bilingual but had no idea we would suddenly end up in Italy where most only speak Italian. I continue to speak only English and my husband only Danish with our son. He now attends daycare/school about 20 hours per week where they have a mix of Italian and English speaking caregivers, but predominately Italian. Although Oliver doesn’t yet have words, he does “speak” quite a lot and with a lot of expression. He points and leads and shakes his head no, but I sense his frustration when you don’t understand what he wants. Any advice? Is three languages at his age just too much? I would really appreciate anything you can tell me!

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