Raising a Bilingual Child: How to Encourage Language Development

November 22, 2023


Here at Toddle, we encourage the idea of raising children that can speak two or more languages. We’re about to discuss with you some of the step in which we think you should take if you’re lucky enough to living in a bilingual household. 

The Benefits of Bilingualism in Childhood

Raising a bilingual child can open doors to a multitude of benefits. With the world becoming increasingly interconnected, the ability to communicate in more than one language is an invaluable skill. Australians are so lucky to come from such a rich tapestry of cultures and heritages, that bilingual families are becoming extremely common. 

Cognitive Advantages

There are so many advantages of bilingualism in children. Children who grow up learning two (or more) languages simultaneously have been shown to have much better problem-solving abilities than kids who only speak one language. Juggling two languages strengthens mental agility and forces the brain to work harder, making it more agile and quick thinking. So, we're not just talking about language skills here, but an overall cognitive boost!

Cultural Exposure and Empathy 

Children who learn to speak multiple languages are known to gain a broader perspective of the world. They become culturally enriched, developing a deeper understanding and appreciation for different cultures. This exposure fosters empathy in your child, allowing them to relate easily with diverse groups—a skill that will serve them their whole lives.

Future Opportunities and Career Prospects 

Lastly, let's not overlook the future opportunities that bilingualism can offer. In this globalised era, fluency in two or more languages broadens career prospects. Not only does it increase employability in fields like teaching, translation, tourism, and international relations, but it also gives an edge in any job where communication and empathy are key. 

Practical Steps to Foster Language Development

Early Introduction and Consistent Exposure

Introducing your kids to learning two languages early on in their lives will ensure they master them both. From birth, children start to absorb the sounds and rhythms of languages. So, talk to your child in your native tongue and then in your secondary language. It's an effective way to boost their language skills and help them become more comfortable with different dialects. 

Exposing your kids consistently to both languages is equally important. Try to create an environment where the child hears and uses both languages naturally throughout the day. This could be through interaction with bilingual family members, reading books in their second language or attending a bilingual preschool. You could also communicate with your childcare educators and have them ask your kids questions about learning two languages. This will encourage them having a person of authority in their life showing interest in something really cool that they’re learning!

Fun and Engaging Language Activities 

To make learning two languages more fun and engaging, consider incorporating various activities into your child’s daily routine. Sing songs, count to ten, recite nursery rhymes, and tell stories in both languages. Remember, the goal is to make your child love the process of learning the languages, not just the result.

Utilising Technology for Language Learning

Technology can be an extremely helpful tool in your bilingual journey. There are numerous language learning apps available that are both educational and engaging. They offer interactive activities, and visual aids, and also allow your child to hear correct pronunciation.

Bilingual Books and Educational Games

Lastly, encouraging your child to read bilingual books and play educational games that involve both languages. Reading helps to expand vocabulary, while games make learning fun and interactive. These resources are not only educational but also provide a great way for your child to connect with both cultures. 

Remember, every child is different, and it's okay if your child takes their time. The most important thing is to keep the process enjoyable and stress-free. After all, raising a bilingual child is a journey, not a race.

Overcoming Challenges in Raising a Bilingual Child

Raising a bilingual child comes with its fair share of challenges. However, with the right strategies and a little bit of patience, you can absolutely navigate through these hurdles.

Dealing with Resistance 

One of the most common challenges that parents face is resistance from their kids. Children might show a preference for one language over the other, especially the one that is more commonly spoken in their lives. To deal with this, try to create a fun and engaging learning atmosphere. Incorporate their preferred language into daily routines, games, storybooks, and songs. You'd be surprised at how quickly they can pick up new words and phrases when they're immersed in a lively and enjoyable situation!

Balancing Two Languages

Balancing the two languages is another hurdle. It's important to give equal exposure and importance to both languages. If one language is spoken more frequently at home, try to increase exposure to the other language through activities like reading books, watching colouful and fun tv shows, or organising a play date with other kids in the community who speak the other language.

Knowing When to Use Each Language

Knowing when to use each language can be a bit tricky.. A popular approach is the 'one parent, one language' strategy, where each parent consistently speaks one of the two languages. This helps the child associate each language with a specific parent, thus reducing confusion.

Preventing Language Mix-up

Finally, preventing language mix-ups is essential. It's normal for bilingual children to mix languages while speaking. Don't be alarmed; this is part of their learning process. Over time, as their vocabulary and grammar skills improve, this mixing will decrease.

The Role of Family and Community in a Child's Bilingual Journey

In the journey of raising a bilingual child, the influence of family and community is imperative. Their role in enriching this experience goes beyond the immediate family to include grandparents, uncles, aunts, and even neighbours.

Involving Extended Family in Language Learning

Involving extended family in language learning can be a game-changer. Let's say you have relatives who are fluent in the second language. Your child spending time with them, engaging in casual conversations or listening to their stories, can boost their language skills in a very natural and enjoyable way. This interaction can be face-to-face, or even remotely through video calls. 

Engaging with Bilingual Communities 

Engaging with bilingual communities is another practical strategy. These communities can be a treasure trove of resources, from bilingual books to movies, offering a wide range of options to reinforce language learning.

Participating in Cultural Events

Participation in cultural events is an excellent way to immerse your child in the language's socio-cultural context. Festivals, dance performances, or culinary events related to the language's culture can offer a vivid and memorable language experience. Even visiting restaurants that has the same language throughout the menu can be a great way of exposure to other countries culture. 

Bilingual Playgroups and Schools

Another great way to encourage language development is through bilingual playgroups and schools. These settings provide a conducive environment for your child to learn and use the second language naturally. Playing and interacting with peers who also speak the same language makes learning more fun and less pressurised. 

Remember, the aim is to integrate the second language into your child's daily life as seamlessly as possible. With the right mix of family and community support, your bilingual child's language development can become a delightful journey rather than a daunting task.

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Toddle is the most comprehensive child care finder in Australia, on a mission to make parents’ lives easier.