Tips for parents

Raising Bilingual and Multilingual Children

13 October 2021

Most parents define success as raising children who are academically, emotionally, and socially competent. While there are a limitless number of pathways to achieve this, researches show clear evidence that raising bilingual or multilingual children is a proven pathway to promote academic achievement, flexible and adaptable personalities and culturally responsive behaviors. Furthermore, bilingual/multilingual children are a growing portion of the population.
If you are in a position of raising a child learning more than one language within your household, it may seem daunting or easier to fall into an English-only lifestyle. However, the benefits of children learning more than one language will make it worth it in the long run! Those who learn two languages have improved attention, empathy, cognition, problem-solving skills, and even flexibility. Exposing young children to a second (or third) language between the ages of 0-3 is the greatest opportunity for them, as young brains are most receptive to learning a second language. Studies have shown that as little as an hour a day can make a difference in second language acquisition.

Promoting Dual Language Building at Home

The good news is that there is no “one” way and no “wrong” way to promote learning a second language for children at any age. Some strategies that may work into a family’s lifestyle include, but are not limited to:
At any age, increasing the quantity of speech in a new language, and the quality (face-to-face, in a natural context) of the vocabulary, can make an even bigger impact.
You can also prompt dual-language children by choosing the second language for familiar TV shows on Netflix, rather than English, that your child can likely follow.
Turn on subtitles in a second language on a TV show if you are watching it in English.
Look for books in the library written in the second language.
If you know any individuals whose first language is your child’s second language they are learning, try to create interactions with relatives, friends and community members.
Look for opportunities to celebrate and immerse yourself and your children in other cultures, including the cultures that speak any languages other than English your child may be learning.
If a parent is fluent in a language other than English, consider having him/her speak exclusively to your child in the other language, at least 1 or many days per week.

Promoting Dual Language Building at School

Eighty percent of parents believe that children should learn a second language prior to graduating high school. If you missed the young years to introduce a new language to your child, there are still plenty of opportunities for your child to learn another language effectively once they are school age. Schools play an important role in language acquisition. By taking courses in other languages, students have the ability to learn new languages where they otherwise could not do so, if parents only speak one language at home. Incremental learning does provide a pathway to becoming bilingual, or multilingual. If you want your child to get the most language acquisition out of their school foreign language courses, consider the following strategies:
Enroll in a foreign language class as soon as it is offered at your school. For some, this may be an elementary school exploratory class, for others, it may be high school.
Once enrolled, stick with it! The longer students are enrolled in classes, the more likely they will acquire a second language.
Use technology to supplement your child’s learning; there are dozens of apps that are engaging, and make learning fun outside of the classroom. Explore language acquisition apps such as Duolingo or Babbel.

Look for clubs or camps where there are other students who are interested in learning the same language. By signing your child up for these opportunities, your child can also experience different culturally relevant activities to solidify their learning and make deeper connections to the language.

Consider opportunities for studying abroad, exchange programs, or finding zoom partners through trusted language school sources.
Learning another language can begin as early or late in life as desired. Consider taking this step in encouraging and creating the ability to expose your children to another language in order to set them up for success now and in the future.