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Tips For Multilingual Families: How To Raise Bilingual Children

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

Give your children a language boost at home with these useful tips from Company Manager Adeline.

Medical School application tips

Some families are lucky enough to be multilingual, when one of the parents speaks more than one language or when the parents’ native tongues are not the same. In these cases, children grow up learning to speak one language at school and one language at home for instance, and become experts in what is called “code-switching” — i.e. being able to move from one language from the other.

There is a lot of debate about what works best in multilingual families, but most advice on the subject seem to agree on the fact that it is useful to implement consistency, with different times being dedicated to different languages. Along these lines, Cambridge English explain:

“Remember to plan separate times to focus on each language. If you say something in English and then in another language, your child will automatically listen for their stronger language and ‘tune out’ the other language”.

When parents have different native tongues, a way to separate languages might be to follow the “one person, one language” principle, where the parents will consistently speak to the child in their own native language — even though some overlap will be inevitable during family conversations.

However, even if as a parent you do not feel entirely confident in another language, it is possible to find ways to support your children in their language learning. You might even want to use the opportunity to polish up your knowledge of a foreign language yourself — as Cambridge English say on their website:

“If you are enthusiastic about learning the language, they will be too”.

I was recently impressed at young children’s receptivity to a different language: a couple of French friends visited with their three-year-old, who has been raised in a French background. They do have a couple of storybooks in English that they read to him at times, but they’re not a fully bilingual family. However, when the boy wanted some distraction, he was delighted to find his favourite cartoon on my British TV, and didn’t seem to mind at all that it was only available in English.

When most adults would have requested subtitles or complained about the show not being in their native tongue, he was perfectly happy to enjoy it in a foreign language. Some sceptics may say that he just enjoyed looking at the pictures and didn’t listen to the language at all, but I’m convinced that even by passively watching this he developed his listening skills, which will probably contribute to his language learning in the future.

With the variety of video platforms now available online, it’s become very easy to access a range of different material suitable for all ages. I really like the page “Comptines et chansons” for French nursery rhymes — the bright-coloured illustrations and the scroll text make it really easy to follow and quite eye-catching for young learners.

For older students, I would recommend starting from their personal interests and trying to explore them in the target language — if you do not feel your knowledge of the language is enough to be able to recommend relevant resources, reach out to your child’s teacher at school or tutor, who should be able to guide them towards plenty of material to explore independently.

Another way to make sure your child gets more exposure to a foreign language would be to find them a pen friend. The idea of writing letters and sending postcards might seem a bit outdated now, but I have fond memories of my correspondence with my US pen friends when I was younger. I recently dug up some of my drafts and the responses I received — my grammar was far from great, but I got to speak about my school, my holiday and my friends, and learnt a bit about how children my age lived in other countries.

Once again, the internet offers plenty of opportunities, but I would recommend being cautious online, as it’s always tricky to check who is behind a pseudonym. I would suggest first asking around your own circle of friends and acquaintances, and it is very likely that someone will be able to come up with suggestions of young cousins or relatives who would be happy to start a pen friendship. In addition, face-to-face conversations with a tutor might also be a way to boost language learning and to motivate students who are reticent to writing.

I would like to conclude by pointing out that with languages, I believe the most important thing is consistency in the long term: what will really bear fruit in my opinion is to learn little and often — as we say in French: “Qui veut voyager loin ménage sa monture” (literally translated as “He who wishes to ride far spares his horse”, probably best translated as “Slow and steady wins the race”).

Liked this? You may also enjoy Netflix your way to Language Mastery!

Blog Post Crafted by Adeline

Adeline runs our Admin Team. With a PhD in English, she can call herself a doctor but can’t write prescriptions!

Adeline manages the staff on our Admin Team, liaising with tutors, clients and applicants. She is responsible for processing the ID, Qualifications, DBS Check and References for all our newly joining tutors, as well as taking tuition enquiries, matching tutors to clients, and supporting tutors and clients throughout the process of tuition.


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