The Struggles of Raising Bilingual Children

in Intercultural Marriage, Parenting

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bilingual family

Raising bilingual children is a choice many parents are making these days. For some parents, raising bilingual kids is almost a necessity, as the parents have different home languages. For others, bilingualism is a choice. While raising bilingual children can be a struggle, it can definitely be worthwhile, too. Children who are truly bilingual may be more flexible thinkers, can take advantage of their knowledge of multiple cultures, and certainly have a skill that will be useful later on in life.

Some of the main struggles with raising bilingual children involve making decisions about how language will be used at home and fending off the mythical beliefs of outsiders who think bilingualism is confusing or unnecessary for your child. Here are a few struggles you might deal with, as well as ways you can conquer them.

Deciding on how and when to use language

In some families, this isn’t actually a major decision making process. In an intercultural marriage, for instance, the spouses are likely to be in a pattern of speaking before the child is even born. For instance, a Spanish mother and British father might speak English to one another, but the mother will probably use Spanish in her phone calls home. In this situation, it might feel more natural for the mother to communicate with her child in her own mother tongue, but family communications will probably take place in English.

A family who is consciously choosing bilingualism might, on the other hand, have to decide when to speak each language. Often times, this decision is based on situations. For instance, when the family is at home, they’ll speak one language, and when they’re out and about, they’ll speak another. In some families, they even alternate language-speaking days to make sure their children are exposed to both languages.

The truth is that any of these options can work well, especially for young children. They are already primed to pick up language, and they’ll follow your lead. However, the situations in which you choose to use different languages will probably rub off on your children, so do keep this in mind when making this choice.

Mixing languages

Mixing of languages can be an issue not just for children who grow up bilingual but for anyone who knows with at least some proficiency more than one language. However, even babies are able to distinguish between the sounds of different languages, so your child won’t be confused about which language as which.

Most often, mixing languages is a problem when a child is semilingual. This means that a child isn’t completely fluent in one or both of the languages being used. Semilingualism is much more common than true bilingualism, but the dominance of one language over the other usually changes at different times and in different situations. For instance, a Spanish-English speaking child might be more comfortable speaking in Spanish but reading in English if Spanish is spoken at home and English is taught at school.

Usually, mixing languages takes place only early on when a child is learning in a bilingual culture. Eventually, this mixing might take place consciously, as a speaker pulls a word from the other language that seems to suit an emotion or situation more clearly. However, children will eventually learn to separate their languages, especially as their vocabulary develops in each language.

Speech delays

One thing that is definitely true is that bilingual children can experience minor speech delays. Of course, children all develop at different rates, anyway, so this can be difficult to track scientifically. However, bilingual children might seem to be a bit behind their peers, potentially because it takes them more time to process the languages they’re learning than it would had they been learning just one language. Eventually, though, your kids will catch up, just as late crawlers and walkers are eventually running right alongside the other grade school aged children!

Having the tools to do it

Raising bilingual children is difficult if you are a bilingual couple, but it’s even more so for couples who don’t already speak different languages. However, with the right tools, you can invest in your child’s future by teaching him or her multiple languages as they grow. Having a family credit card with good rewards can help you purchase certain tools as they come up. These tools might include participation in a language immersion program, language lessons for the family’s adults, or even books or stories for kids to listen to in another language.

The first five years of a child’s life are incredibly important to language formation, so this is when bilingualism needs to be started if it’s to be successful with most children.

Ashyia Hill is a blogger with CreditDonkey, where parents and students can compare student credit cards. She reminds you that setting out with a plan to help your children become bilingual is a good start to their education, and it can help them become more successful later in life.

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Élan

Thanks for the post! I have been thinking a lot about the best ways to raise a bilingual (or multilingual) child. One family I know speaks one language on the first floor of their house and another on the second floor. The most common method I’ve seen is to have each parents speak their native language around/to the child. I really enjoy speaking my husband’s language at home, though, and I’d hate to give that up. Thanks for suggesting some alternate methods. 🙂

Glee

Hi Elan, I agree. I think that it´s best for both parents to expose their kids to each of their languages. I and my husband have discussed about this issue in case we have our own children. We plan to use both of our language at home, too. 🙂

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