I smile as I listen to Yannis Talking. He says one word in English and then in French or Ewe, our Togolese dialect. He mixes up his languages a bit for now, but I know that soon he will separate them expertly. You’ve probably heard that very young children absorb languages like sponges. It’s true! That’s why teaching your child to be bilingual from birth is one of the most practical ways to teach a second or third language.Raising a bilingual child is no easy task. But, it’s worth every effort! Later, he’ll thank me when he doesn’t have to struggle through learning his first language as an older child.
There are many methods people use to teach their kids to be bilingual. Our favorite method is the “one parent, one language” method. With this method, one parent speaks one language with the child and the other parent speaks a different language. The child hears both languages and begins to naturally speak each language with each parent. This method can be very effective! But, it does mean that each parent must commit to using a specific language with the child. Also, the parent must be very fluent in the language they use.
Other people rely on school or daycares to teach children a second language. However, there are many things you can do at home to Raising a bilingual Child:
There are plenty of great books available in languages other than English. Buy books in the target language and try to read books exclusively in this language. That way, storytime becomes the natural time for practicing the second language. With books, children pick up new vocabulary easily because the pictures provide a visual reference for what’s going on. Both fiction and nonfiction books are great for this purpose.
Bilingual Books For Young Toddler:
- Le Lapin et La Lune
- Bonsoir Lune
- La chenielle qui fait des trous
- Au burn Au burn dis moi
- Les Animaux
Why not try painting, cooking, or gardening in a second language? When doing these activities, you can narrate what you’re doing in the second language. For example, you can say “now, I’m using the color red,” or, “now we’ll water the tomatoes.” Over time, your child will develop a great vocabulary for the various activities you do when using the second language. By choosing an activity to do in the second language, your child knows that there is a time limit and you’ll eventually return to the language you usually use at home.
Singing songs is a wonderful way for children to pick up new words in a new language. Yannis started listening to French lullabies when he was only a couple months old. The melody and rhythm help children remember words they might not otherwise remember. As a bonus, it’s fun!
*Spotify and Pandora are the easiest way for finding songs in all three languages
Favorite Bilingual Radio Stations and Albums
- Tchou ou Tchou ou gbovi by Angelique Kidjo
- Un Petit Pouce Qui Marche By Kalinou
- French Lullaby
- Fais Dodo, Colas
- Collection Comptines
A Note on Bilingual Children
Keep in mind that babies who grow up bilingual might not speak as quickly as monolingual children. Also, it’s normal for kids to mix up words and language structures at first. They’ll eventually sort it out!
When older kids learn new languages, they might go through a period when they can understand a lot, but have trouble talking. This is also normal!
With patience and persistence, you can raise a bilingual child.