7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child

 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child

Author: Naomi Steiner, MD
Pub Date: November 2008
Print Edition: $14.95
Print ISBN: 9780814400463
Page Count: 208
Format: Paper or Softback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814401767

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7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child

Step #1: Building the Foundation for Your Child’s Bilingualism

Every child can learn multiple languages from birth. It is normal for children to mix languages in speech as they learn them. Children learning two languages sometimes start talking a little later, but no research has shown that bilingualism typically leads to anything more than a temporary language delay. Monolingual parents can raise a bilingual child. A child’s brain is wired to learn different languages, but adequate language stimulation is a must. A poor language environment can lead to a child becoming a “passive” bilingual (able to understand the language, but does not use it). A child’s brain adapts to her language environment and a child can learn a language well beyond 5 years of age.

Step #2: Making It Happen: Defining Your Goals

Decide which languages are important to you and why. Identify your motivations for—and your reservations about—bilingualism. Choose which language(s) you and your partner are going to speak to your child. Set a start date and determine how proficient you hope your child will be in a second language. Do a reality check and determine if your proficiency goals are realistic for your family. Take into account that one language will be dominant.

Step #3: Becoming a Bilingual Coach

Make bilingualism a priority for you and your child. Ensure the correct amount of language input for the level of bilingualism you’re aiming for your child to attain. Teach or arrange for bilingual instruction. Determine who should speak what language when. One popular method is OPOL (One Parent One Language)

Step #4: Creating Your Bilingual Action Plan

Fill your home with multilingual media from the Internet, television, educational games, and activites. Make the most of community resources such as your local library, babysitters, extended family, and travel. Find school support at your local public school, Saturday or Sunday language schools, and summer camps.

Step #5: Leaping Over Predictable Obstacles

There are steps you can take to boost your child’s language development, such as keeping it natural and not overwhelming the child. It is a normal developmental step for a child to switch languages and you can redirect him or her to the other. Mixing languages is a normal part of language development, simply help them fill in the language gaps (without correcting your child every time). Don’t be self-conscious about speaking other languages in public; it does have a significant impact on your child’s learning. Both parents must be actively engaged with the language if not fluent, so it’s important to recognize your partner’s support and help. Children recognize the attitudes of both parents towards the language so if one is unsupportive, the child could become discouraged.

Step #6: The “Two R’s”: Reading and Writing in Two Languages

Reading is powerful and reading alone can lead to the strong acquistion of a language. It offers an additional and complementary kind of language exposure and leads to increased vocabulary and better understanding, which in turn leads to greater facility and enjoyment when using the language. Reading leads to higher level language skills and incresaed cognitive benefits. It can also help develop and safe-guard language skills over a lifetime.

Writing helps reinforce vocabulary and both learn and practice grammar skills. It helps develop a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the language and develops higher language skills. It also helps improve spoken language skills.

Step #7: Adapting to School

There are five things you need to know about foreign language study in U.S. public schools: (1) know what bilingual education programs your school system offers; (2) know that true bilingual programs are relatively rare and extremely popular; (3) know that in most school districts, rigorous foreign language study happens at the high school level; (4) know that language choice is often limited; and (5) know that “sequencing” (putting your child in the correct level of difficulty course) is probably going to be an issue for your bilingual child.

Help your child identify positively with the language. Adjust your bilingual goals and plan as needed and let your child know you love him just as he is. Trust the process.

Adapted from 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child (AMACOM 2008) by Naomi Steiner, M.D. with Susan L. Hayes.

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