As a parent, one of the challenges one can face is raising a bilingual child. Learning a language is a skill. And, as with any other skill such as learning to play an instrument or a sport, practice is vital. Raising bilingual children is a lifelong journey. Providing our children ways to boost their language skills on a daily basis will give them the support they need to become proficient speakers in all of their languages.
1. Exposure: Your child needs to be spoken in the language you want them to learn. This often is followed through the OPOL strategy, i.e. one person, one language. This method is when one person speaks one language and the other person speaks another language. For example, the mother speaks Hindi and the father speaks English to your child. Thus, your child gets the exposure of both languages.
2. Minority Language at Home: This strategy entails the parent speaking the targeted language at home. For example, every family member speaks English at home, even as your native language could be Hindi, Tamil, Bengali, or Marathi.
3. Time and Place Strategy: The TOP strategy includes parents assigning specific days for the specific language. For example, one parent speaks English every Sunday and every Monday and Wednesdays in late evenings while watching TV.
Switching the language after a two-week interval has proven to work best for most parents.
4. Structure: This will require you to do research as it’s a simple methodology which enables you to break down the big concept into parts in a systematic manner which is age appropriate. You might not find it difficult to break down the concepts in your mother tongue as it comes very naturally to you. However, with some research on the language, you will be able to teach the concepts in English to your child.
5. Consistency: It’s a known fact that reinforcement and repetition is the key to mastering a language. Hence, we recommend the same in learning English. If your child frequently hears and sees the language such as English as often as possible, they are consistently exposed to the usage of the targeted language. This enables them to gain a better understanding of the language.
Eventually, your child will think of their bilingual skills like wearing a coat; they’ll be able to reach out for the right coat when the right occasion asks for it!
Tips to support your child’s bilingual development:
1. READ EVERY DAY
As parents, we should read to our children every day. With bilingual kids, it is even more important, especially to improve the minority language. Reading books to our children gives them exposure to vocabulary that they may not otherwise hear on a daily basis in normal conversation. The more words they hear, the larger their vocabulary becomes.
2. PLAY MUSIC
Many children are able to sing songs before they can even speak. Using music to learn a language or improve your bilingual children’s language skills is a powerful tool. By singing songs together, your child will hear a range of vocabulary, which can be easily memorized to a melody. There is something about music that motivates children to learn without realizing it. Children naturally love to dance around and sing. Playing songs in the target language will allow your child to learn while having fun.
3. COOK TOGETHER
Cooking is a fun activity that the whole family can enjoy. There are so many skills that children can learn through cooking. Try reading a recipe in the target language, and following the instructions. Cook a foreign dish and taste different types of ingredients. Working together on a task is a great opportunity to encourage conversation and practice a language.
Immersing your child in a language is one of the best ways to improve their fluency. By travelling to places where your target language is spoken, your children will get to practice the language in the most natural way possible. They will also be able to experience the culture that goes with it.
5. MAKE IT FUN
We all know children learn the most when having fun. When children are motivated, they absorb and remember more information. Simply spending time together doing activities that you know your child will enjoy will improve your bilingual children’s language skills with very little effort. Let your child take the lead and show you what they like to do, and make it into a learning experience.