All about children!

I know many parents, who are bilingual, that are asking themselves that very same question. Some parents speak a different language than their partner and there are some people who are not bilingual but would like their children to be bilingual. The same question, however, the way each family addresses the bilingual education is very different. So, how do we raise bilingual children? Let’s review a few approaches. 

  • One parent-one language approach. Here each parent speak their native language to the child. That way the child has daily influence of both languages. This really help the child acquire both sets of words at the same time.
  • Time-based approach. Here, both parents have to be bilingual (if possible), and as a family choose when to speak each language. It could be by month (one month one language, then the second language and keep switching), or weekly or even daily (e.g. Spanish in the morning, English at night). This approach reinforces learning both languages with both parents.
  • Home language-community language approach. Here parents speak a different language than the dominant language in the community. For example, Spanish-speaking parents living in the United States. With this approach (very common in the United States, by the way), the child hears the first language (or Native Language) at home and will usually start learning the second language (community language) when he/she goes to school. In this situation the child might have a strong language background to support the second language learning.
  • Mixed language approach. Here both (or one at least) parents are bilingual and the child is exposed to both languages all or most of the time. This approach is slightly different from the one parent-one language approach because the child learns to speak both languages with both parents and does not have to choose a language for a specific parent. 

Things to consider when choosing your approach: When choosing a style of bilingual acquisition, take into consideration that growing up, the child will use more the language that is NEEDED the most. If the home-language is different from the community-language, as they grow, they won’t use the home-language as much, because they realize that they NEED the community-language to “survive”. However, if the home-language is reinforced by all (or most) members of the family as much as they can, the home-language will become “important” as well to “survive” (at least at home!)

Also, consider exposing the child as soon as possible (in the womb, remember?). Early exposure of both languages, will help the child acquire language similar to monolingual children.

I think I will choose the first and second approach for my kids. What do you do? Any other suggestions?

photo: iStock

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Comments on: "How do I raise a bilingual child?" (14)

  1. Jeanette Cabrera said:

    Excelente.No se que estilo seria bueno para nosotros, pero definitivamente trataremos de que sea bilingue.

  2. We have done the third approach quite successfully. Alba is 3 years old and spoke solely Spanish, and in the last 8 months or so was hearing quite a bit more English (30 minutes of PBS-WETA/day). She has always had an extremely large and quite advanced vocabulary in Spanish (our pediatrician estimates a Kindergarten level). She just started pre-school 3 days a week for 3 hours a day and she is already at a 3-year-old level of English. However we continue to use Spanish in the home and as our relational language. Hopefully, we can keep it up.

  3. […] of changing their approach, Vanessa at Language, Music and More has written a very useful post summarizing the different approaches parents can take in raising their child bilingually, including a discussion of factors that might make one method […]

  4. I was raised in Puerto Rico. Everything was in Spanish, that is, home language and community language. How I learned English is a mystery. We take 3 hours a week of English at school from elementary to high school. I guess the key here is what you mentioned at the end of the article. If you have the NEED, you will learn the language. In my case, need to enjoy cable TV, need to study with books in English and finally need to communicate with co-workers.

    • Hi. I completely agree! I was born and raise in Puerto Rico and the little English we get in schools (at least in public schools) is definitely not enough! Just like you I had the need/want to learn for exactly the same reasons at the beginning, watching cable and school work. I also “knew” I wanted to leave in the US so, I needed it! Thanks for your comment!

  5. It’s nice to see there are alternatives to the OPOL approach, which doesn’t really work for us. Mainly because I am the primary caregiver and I speak the majority language. That said, we don;t really have a method at the moment. I’m liking the time based one, because it would impose some discipline on what we sort of do now, which is that I speak Russian with my son at his Russian playgroup and surroundings, and mostly Russian when Papa is at home. Shall try to be consistent about this.

    • HI Solnushka

      Some people don’t like that approach because they think is unnatural. However, it’s an easy way to keep track of your language input, especially at the beginning! Thanks for your comment!

      • Well, my problem is that we are unreformed code switchers in my family, so that approach might help with that, which I’m pretty sure is not recommended.

  6. Nice summary! I just want to mention that in OPOL (or any of the other approaches, for that matter), the parent doesn’t necessarily have to speak his or her native language. My three-year-old son is bilingual because I have spoken French to him exclusively since he was born, even though I’m not a native speaker of that language.

    • You are correct! Usually it happens the parent speak their native language, but it doesn’t HAVE to be! Thanks for your comment!

  7. We kind of use OPOL except I was raised bilingual so in addition to my husband’s native French and my native English, I also speak Spanish to my children. My husband always stays in French. I switch back and forth between Spanish and English every two weeks. This works for us! We tried every other day, but it was too much mental gymnastics and one month would be too long. Two weeks is just right for us. Our children are 10, 7 and 4. They are trilingual and LOVE it! We live in Paris, France.

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