4 Tips For Raising Bilingual Children

This is about my personal experience with raising my children bilingual.  My experience is unique because my husband and I natively speak two different languages.  In this post I will share some tips that worked for us as we are raising our children bilingual from birth.

Little boy and girl holding hands walking on a ocean pier.

We are a bilingual, multicultural family. I am bilingual but I learned Spanish, as an adult, at a language school in Costa Rica. Since learning Spanish I have lived overseas. I dreamed that I would have bilingual children because I understood the difficulty of learning a language later on in life. It's not impossible, but much more of a challenge. I married a Salvadoran who does not speak English so I am continuously practicing my Spanish. It is a journey that I am still on.

Related post: 3 Important Tips On Marrying an International

My dream came true because two years after getting married my husband and I moved from El Salvador to Honduras to work in a Christian bilingual school.  Both of my children were born here and this is where my journey of having bilingual children begins.  I am North America, my husband is Salvadoran. Our children are Honduran and North American.

Related post:  My Multi-Cultural Family

First of all so many people, who are not experts in linguistics, gave me a lot of bad advice on raising my children bilingual.

Let's start off with the myth that learning two or more languages will slow down your child's language development.  Many people warned me of this but I did some research and found out that it is not true. Children who are bilingual from birth hit the same language milestones.

According to a great post on this topic, Rebecah Parlakian states,

"Actually young dual-language learners achieve the same language milestones as monolingual children when it comes to babbling, saying their first word, understanding familiar words, combining words (“Mama, up!”), and reaching a 50-word vocabulary."
There is even some evidence that dual language learning may begin in the womb. You can read about it in this very interesting article Bilingual From Birth

I can say, from my experience, that my children were bilingual from birth because we live in Honduras and my husband only speaks Spanish. I am bilingual. I also am an ESL teacher. So from the womb, both my children were exposed to English and Spanish equally. The correct term for this is simultaneous bilingualism.

Before my first child was born I read lots of articles and consulted friends who were in the same situation as I was.  I believe the best advice I received was from a friend who lives in the States but both she and her husband are bilingual. She said that her pediatrician told her the best way to teach your children is the one parent one language method.

She told me that because we live in Honduras Spanish will be their majority language. So I would have to speak to them only in English and everything that they watched and played at home would need to be in English.

So, that is what we did and what we continue to do.

We always knew that my oldest understood everything that we said.  But around 2 1/2 years old while I was cooking my son told me (in English which is the only language he speaks to me in) that he needed to go to the bathroom.  I told him that I was cooking and to go tell his dad. He immediately switched to Spanish and said, "Papi, Quiero ir al baño." Which he told his dad the exact same thing that he told me, but in Spanish.

I was amazed that my two year old was able to switch between languages as if it were nothing. As if it were the same language.

That was only the beginning and since then both my children do the same thing.  They understand and speak both languages the same.  Now my son is 4 1/2 and he will ask me what things mean or how do you say something in English and then he will say, "And how do you say it in Spanish?"

It's really amazing watching my children grow up bilingual and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little envious.  Soon their Spanish will better than mine.

This is about my personal experience with raising my children bilingual.  My experience is unique because my husband and I natively speak two different languages.  In this post I will share some tips that worked for us as we are raising our children bilingual from birth.

Here are a few second language learning strategies that worked great for us.

1.   One parent one language.

Do not switch back and forth. Your children need stability. Knowing with whom they speak said language will help.  I only speak to my childern in English and my husband speaks to them in Spanish.

2. Read

Read in both languages. Both you and your spouse should read to your children daily in both languages. Make sure you really concentrate on the minority language.

3. TV and music in the minority language

The majority language in our case is Spanish so minority language is English. Almost 100% of the time television, youtube, music, and are all in English.

4. Correct the errors.

They are learning two languages and there will be confusion at times. Code-Switching is a very normal practice that bilinguals do, even as adults. So don't worry if they are speaking in Spanish and throw in an English word or vice versa.  Just correct them gently. They will eventually get it. For example, my children say, "I want water cold" instead of "I want cold water" because that is how you would say it in Spanish. I just correct them every time they say it and they repeat after me. I have been correcting my oldest for years now. He just recently asked me for a cup of cold water. I almost let out a victory yell when I heard that. I thought maybe we would say it like that forever. Thankfully, he will not.

I've put together some resources that I found useful where you can find more information on this subject.

Bilingualism in Young Children: Separating Fact From Fiction

How to Raise Bilingual Children: 5 Methods

The Do's and Don'ts of Raising Bilingual Kids

12 Things Parents of Bilingual Children Need to Know

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