My daughter is two and a half years old, and she talks a lot! She talks, sings, screams, laughs and cries. Constantly. She gets quiet only when she eats or sleeps. I guess she started to talk using three word sentences when she had 18 months, and everyone kept telling me how amazing it was that she can speak that well for her age. Back then she knew all the farm animals, she could name any food she eat, her actions, people in our family, her toys etc..
But I was just anxious that she would never speak well my language! Because when she was saying simple phrases in French, she would be just saying words in my language. You see, I live in French speaking place, with a lot of English surrounding us as well. But my first language is Polish, and that’s how I usually dream, think and talk to my children and cats. So I worried that she would never be able to express herself in Polish as she could in French. Because as it was only me that spoke to her in Polish on a daily basis, French was everywhere else!
Now she’s three and a half years old and she talks equally well in French and Polish. It’s been a struggle, and I know that my work is not done any time soon, but I am so happy to see as she switches from one to another translating to her grandma what I’ve just told her. Here is what I’ve been doing, and what I’ll keep on doing to raise my bilingual children :
1. There is an important association: one parent, one language.
What it means is that you should always use one language while talking to your child, and never, ever switch! Children are smart creatures, and most likely they choose the easiest and most efficient way to get what they need. So if it’s easier to speak one language than the other, they won’t try particularly hard to find the word they forgot. They’ll use whatever word that comes first to mind, and if you’ll start responding to them with the other language, they’ll see that they can get what they need (communication with you) without trying to speak your language. So while speaking to your child use only one language !
2. Talk constantly, describe what you do, what is happening around you, comment on there actions and name their feelings.
Children learn to speak by listening to conversations and being a part of an exchange. So if there isn’t much conversation around, you need to make up for it! You may get crazy, and in the end of the day you may loose your voice, but keep on talking while you cut these carrots!
Singing helps to memorize grammar structure and vocabulary, so sing when you dress them up, sing when you go outside, sing when you clean and bath! If you are sick and tired of songs that you know try inventing songs and rimes, use simple melodies and sing!
4. Use creative grammar!
Switch from : I do, to mommy is doing, you are doing, he is doing, we are .. And so on.. If your children don’t hear a lot of real life conversations, they won’t learn how to use grammar. So not only you need to constantly talk, but you also need to do a lot of role playing!
5. Read a lot of books. Every day.
Start early, as soon as they get interested in objects and can sit still for 3 minutes. If you don’t have baby books in your language just take any, and translate them. Look online for children books and rimes, there are plenty!
6. As soon as they start talking, respond to their requests and questions only if expressed in your language.
It’s hard, and requires a lot of patience on your part, but it’s really the only way to teach them, that when communicating with mummy we use only this language. Of course if your child is crying in the middle of the night you won’t wait until they use the right words! But when my daughter would ask me for juice in French, I would ask her if she could repeat because I didn’t understand well. At first she would slowly repeat in French, then she would almost spell it for me also in French, sometimes two or three times! It’s hard to resist laughing when your child clearly thinks that you are stupid, but you should stay calm and not give in. I assure you that finally she would come up with a Polish word!
7. Make them repeat after you and give them ready to use phrases.
When I see that my daughter clearly has no clue how to put it in words in Polish, I give her a phrase to repeat after me. I tell her that when she wants juice she should say it like this. Or if she comes to me saying something in French I will repeat after her in Polish, and usually then she repeats after me.
8. Establish a clear rule on watching children’s show at home: only in the language that needs improvement.
There are plenty of all kinds of TV shows and cartoons on YouTube in all possible languages.
9. Let your child listen to real conversations :use Skype to connect with people that can speak your language, call your family on face time. Reconnect with old friends, and ask family members to call you and to baby sit through Skype while you are in the kitchen.
10. Engage in as many social situations possible. Try finding a grocery store, a weekend school or a shop where your child may engage in a conversation in your language. Find them playmates with whom they could communicate only using your language .
Most important, stay persistent, and it will pay of !
More information at multilingualchildren.
And if you’d like to find out more about living a bilingual life check out this great book:Bilingual: Life and Reality !