How to Raise Bilingual Children…Even If You Only Speak One Language

“Raising a bilingual child can be an intimidating task when you, the parent, only speak one language. You may feel like you have to master the second language yourself first or wait until your child can take a second language in school. Neither is the case.

You can raise your child to be multilingual even if you, yourself, only speak one language. Not only can you start teaching your child a second language before they start school, but it’s actually best if you do. Children ages 0-3 have an incredible ability to learn and starting early will make it much easier for them to learn a second language.”

“Read more” for helpful tips on how you can help your child ASAP. 

Scientific studies have shown again and again that there are many benefits for children who learn two or more languages as they grow up.  

These benefits include:

  • Increased cognitive function
  • Better ability to focus on tasks
  • Improved problem solving skills
  • Greater confidence in school
  • A greater awareness and interest in other cultures
  • And many more

In fact, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages has put together a great resource for studies that show the benefits of learning multiple languages.

However, raising a bilingual child can be an intimidating task when you, the parent, only speak one language.  You may feel like you have to master the second language yourself first or wait until your child can take a second language in school.  Neither is the case.  You can raise your child to be multilingual even if you, yourself, only speak one language and not only can you start teaching your child a second language before they start school, but it’s actually best if you do.  Children ages 0-3 have an incredible ability to learn and starting early will make it much easier for them to learn a second language.

Here are some ways you can help your child learn a second language.

Find Social Groups That Speak the Language

Immersion is a great way to learn another language.  Being around and engaging with others who speak the language not only exposes you to the language’s vocabulary, but also the sentence structure, pronunciation, and colloquialisms of the language.  As you and your child interact with others speaking another language, you are naturally compelled to use the language which increases you and your child’s retention and understanding of the language.

Television and Music

Another way to expose your child to another language is through music and television.  There are programs which are specifically intended to help children learn a second language as well as programs that are simply recorded in another language. 

Both can help your child learn a second language.  For example, if you wanted to teach your child French, here is a list of French cartoons for kids.  Similarly, listening to music in the language you are trying to teach your child can help.  Children love music and tend to remember the words associated with songs.  In addition, the repetition of words in the songs helps children (and adults) to better remember those words.

Apps

You may have heard the phrase, “There’s an app for that.”  Well, there are lots of apps for learning a second language, including some specifically designed for children.  Duolingo and Stories by Gus on the Go are good apps for your child to use which will help them learn another language through stories and games that keep them engaged.  As you do a search in Google Play or the Apple’s App Store, you will find several options to try and you can choose the one that works best for your child.

Classes Designed for Young Children

Most language classes are designed for adults, or at least older children, but there are some classes available which are designed for young children and their parents.  Programs which allow you, the parent, to be a part of your child’s learning experience, and even learn along with your child, are an opportunity for bonding with your child and help you to be able to help teach your child at home.  One great example of this is 123 Petits Pas.

123 Petits Pas is a program in the Ottawa region which helps children (and their parents) learn French.  They have classes for children from age 0 -4 which a few other programs for older children.  The classes involve both you and your child and help children to begin learning French before they enter school. One mother recently shared her experience with her child Avery in 123 Petits Pas. She was amazed by her child’s progress in learning French and as well as her and her husband’s growth in learning French.

It’s Time to Get Started

Raising a bilingual child can have great benefits for them socially and academically and it has never been easier to teach your child a second language than it is today.  Even if you don’t speak a second language, you have many ways available to you to teach your child a second language…and maybe even picking it up yourself.  So, don’t be intimidated, be inspired!  You can start your child on the path to being bilingual today.

– Kurt Steinbrueck
Kurt is a parent of 2 bilingual children (18 months and 9 years old) and is married to a 3rd grade teacher.

Photos by: Jess Laurel Photography