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?