As parents committed to raising bilingual kids, we’re fully aware that a) it’s not easy, and b) we need all the help we can get in the form of tools, resources and community. But no matter how much we read, learn from others, bond through playgroups and such, the reality is that the most important element in raising a bilingual child is for the parents to be committed, consistent and proactive in how we expose the minority language to our kids and how fun and relevant it’s made.
The good news is that what children need to thrive in two or more languages, parents — assuming you speak the minority language — are already equipped to give.
1. Books and reading time
Just the mere action of spending some 20 minutes every day reading to or with your child in Spanish (or your target language) immerses him in the richness of the language, gives you opportunity to discuss the book in Spanish and to develop vocabulary. Check out our Books and Libros category for some ideas.
2. Games and play
Children learn better through play, that’s a fact. So why not incorporate games and play elements in Spanish to get them excited about speaking the language. Most of the time they won’t even be aware they are doing so! Anything from board games to card games, puppets and make-believe are fabulous.
3. Habla, habla!
We say this a lot and won’t get tired of repeating that the most important thing you must be doing is speaking to your child in the target language all the time. If you speak the language, you have no exceptions or excuses. Your child must hear the language during most of his waking hours, so there’s nothing better than to be exposed to it through human interaction. Talk to her about anything and start as early as possible, even while in the womb!
4. Cultural connections
Aside from traveling and attending local cultural events, you can bring in your most cherished cultural traditions into the home. The most effective way is to cook traditional dishes and to involve your kids in the preparation as much as possible. You can also have special nights that are dedicated to a specific country you have bonds with. For example, having a Noche de México once per week is a fun way to create a family tradition that brings in the foods, stories, games and language of your country.
5. Motivation and encouragement
Sounds simplistic, but the reality is that all kids need to be praised and motivated along their journey through childhood. Learning a second language is something we hope will be a part of their every day life, but it’s still important to continue to motivate them and instill in them the importance of them knowing several languages. I constantly remind my daughter how special it is that she can speak Spanish and English so well and that not all kids can do that. I encourage her to help the kids in her dual immersion classroom that are just learning Spanish and this boosts her self esteem and motivates her to use Spanish more.
Would love to hear from you. How do you give the gift of bilingualism to your child?