Introducing a new language to a child can be either easy or quite intimidating. There are so many researched methods one can use to go about it through tutors and classes, One language one parent method and many more. While I am not a linguist or educator, I am a mother raising a bilingual child, so she can communicate with her friends in English and in her native language to her extended family.
Research does suggest babies and toddlers are more receptive to learning multiple languages than older children or adults. However, It is never too late or too early to teach a child a new language. The key factor to language development is exposure and need. When children are exposed to a language in various circumstances and people, they will feel the need to learn the language to interact with the world around them.
The suggestions given below are not meant to make a child proficient in a new language, but to build exposure and create an environment to make the child feel the need and desire to learn it in an easy and enjoyable way.
5 Suggestions for Raising a Bilingual Child
1: Speaking the language at home
This is subject to the fluency we have as a parent to speak the language. In my household, I can speak our native language decently well, whereas my husband isn’t quite fluent. Thus, speaking our native language exclusively at home, isn’t quite an option for us. Instead, we speak certain phrases in our native language. Simple statements such as pick up your toys, eat XYZ, come here and put on your shoes, etc. At the beginning, we would say the phrase in our native language followed by the phrase in English, so our child could understand what we were trying to say. Being fairly consistent by speaking few phrases has been easy to introduce a new language at home.
2: Clothing and Home Décor
Clothing and home décor can be a great way to start conversations on language and culture. As Indians, our clothes are slightly complicated to wear and are more summer based clothes. So, my toddler is quite resistant to wearing them, and I’m okay with waiting for her to grow up a bit more before I try making her wear them.
I do enjoy placing home décor items from India at home. It is an easy way to talk about culture and introduce a few new words into their vocabulary. These home décor items could be throw pillows, table linens, curios of people, word art and photos/ paintings.
One can create a beautiful emotional connection with a language through food. Imagine your favorite Italian/ Mexican/ Indian dish, now say the name of the dish as the natives call it. There is a beautiful rhythm when pronounced correctly. Learning the names of ingredients, dishes and creating memories with loved ones while enjoying the food, can foster strong emotional bonds to the language and culture.
Introducing new foods to a child can be challenging and often uncomfortable. It’s always good to start with small portions and have them to take a one bite just to taste the dish. Keep trying to offer them a bite whenever you make the dish, and eventually they will start to respond to it. Give them space to explore the dish and understand it. Forcing them to eat the food, may not be ideal to form a positive connection. This step does come with considerable privilege to make a dish and provide an alternative option, so use your judgement on how to incorporate this suggestion in your family.
4: Movies, TV shows and music
Age-appropriate entertainment in terms of movies, music and tv shows are such a fun way to build exposure to a new language. Watching movies and shows in a different language creates an entire environment to be submerged in the language. If your child can read, turn on the subtitles in English for them to follow along. If not, watching cartoons together with your child in a different language can be a fun family thing to do.
5: Toys and educational material
We live in a wonderful time where there is a wealth of interactive toys, books, apps, in person and online classes available to for various age groups and based on the proficiency level you want to achieve.