A Bilingual Home

Tips

  • Using the Heritage Language as the main communication in the home; the heritage language is the language that is not spoken in the community or at school as much. For example if you immigrated to an English speaking country from Iraq, your heritage language is Arabic since that is your first language. You will want to speak Arabic in the home as much as possible and allow your children to 'learn' English outside of the home, at childcare, at school, during extra curricular activities, watching television, etc.  

  • It is much easier for the children to learn the language the is primary-spoken outside the home if that is the language they are educated in, as opposed to learning the Heritage Language elsewhere but in the home as their primary language.

  • Children eventually 'choose' to speak a preferred language, usually the one they use with their friends (English) over the Heritage Language (Arabic). It is good to keep using the heritage language even if your children are using English more often to ensure they keep their acquired second language skills and that they actively practice. 

  • Read and tell stories in your language, and encourage your child to join in. 

  • Buy/borrow books in your heritage language

  • Play games in your language, especially games that focus on language, like ‘I spy’, bingo, ‘Who am I?’ and memory.

  • Sing songs, dance and play music in your language. Children love music and are more likely to use the language. Music and rhymes also helps build and remember new words. 

  • Use technology to find Apps for language games, use the internet to find children's shows in your heritage language or use a translation program whenever possible.

  • Community activities are often free or offered at a low cost in a multitude of languages

  • Multicultural centers offer cultural foods, activities and exposure to other aspects of the traditions that you may not be able to offer in your home

  • Look for schools, child care centres or multilingual and bilingual programs that support your child’s use of your language or at least who offer the use of multilingual learning to encourage the bilingual brain development of the children

  • Find other families with children who speak the same heritage language with who you can organize activities

  • Expose your child to other native speakers of your heritage language in as many aspects of your family life, plan trips to countries that speak your language if possible

  • If you have family and friends who in other countries and speak your heritage language, encourage your children to connect with them using a video messaging

  • Involve your child in cooking activities or any other traditional activities that are important to your culture and that connect the language with their daily lives

  • It is NEVER too young to expose your child to new languages

  • Children have the capability of learning as many languages as they are exposed to, very easily and with little to no effort until about the age of 7 years old, after which new languages become more difficult to learn 

  • Children who learn a language in their early years (usually before the age of 7 years old) tend to have little to no accent, making them sound closer to a native speaker than older children or adult who learn a second language and who never quite get rid of their accents 

  • Exposure to a second language in the early years allows children to recognize, imitate and repeat natural native speech patterns and naturally acquire grammar rules than children with no exposure, facilitating their acquisition of a second language, even if it's a few years down the road

  • Early exposure to a second language allows children to be familiar with other languages and tend to decrease their hesitancy to learn a second language as they get older   

  • Children who speak more than one language are often linked to:

    • better academic results; bilingual children tend to:

      • concentrate better

      • are better at problem-solving 

      • understand language structure better

      • can multitask more easily​

    • having a more diverse and interesting career opportunities as adults

    • tend to have a better sense of self-worth, identity and belonging, due to:

      • feeling good about their heritage​

      • feeling confident about communicating and connected with people speaking other languages

      • being able to enjoy ​ music, movies, literature and so on in more than one language

    • have a good relationship with their extended families (since they can freely communicate with them)

    • have an enhance emotional bond with their family

    • have an acceptance of other cultures and can be part of other cultures

    • have a strong sense of cultural identity and belonging

    • promotes multiculturism in the community and amongst their peers 

    • as adults, it facilitates traveling in different countries and cultures since their sense of understanding and appreciation of different cultures and languages is increased

Challenges of Raising Bilingual Children

  •  Pressure to speak only English

  •  Can mean a lot of work for the parents

  • Long-term commitment.

  • Can be difficult to stick to your heritage language

  • Keep yourself as a parent and your child motivated to use your heritage language

  • Children may not understand the benefit of bilingualism

  • Make an effort to have multiple chances to hear and use their second language

  • Finding support from other bilingual parents, in the community or in the schools

Bilingualism: Frequently Asked Questions

Can children understand the differences between languages?
Children, a young age, understand the differences between languages without any need to tell or show them. For example, they realize very quickly that they need to speak French to Grandma, and English to the teacher.

How does bilingualism affect the way children learn English? 

Children who have parents who have limited English do better at learning English at school if they keep speaking their heritage language at home, since a solid base in a first language makes it easier to learn a second one. 
 

How does bilingualism affect literacy skills?
Bilingual children who are exposed to more than one written language – for example, French and English – or even different writing systems – for example, Arabic and English – can read and write English at high levels. They might also have a better understanding of the relationship between how words look and sound than their peers who speak only one language. 

How does bilingualism affect speech development?
Children develop speech at different rates. Learning more than one language at the same time will not affect how early or how quickly a child learns to speak. Young children sometimes mix 2 languages, but that sorts itself out on its own as they get older.