Sunday, 21 December 2014

How can I support my bilingual child?

After many years of thinking that bilingualism may have a negative impact on learning and
development, professionals have now realized that in fact being bilingual can have numerous positive results! The difficult thing for parents who may be bringing up bilingual children is to know the right way to do it. In this post, I am going to look at some common myths about bilingualism and give you some tips on how to support your little one's language development :)


  • Delayed language development - a common myth is that bilingual children have delayed language development. This is in fact not true at all. While your child may start to speak slightly later than their peers, you should not worry as who can blame them when they are building a fantastic range of vocabulary in 2 languages!
  • Learning 2 languages can confuse children - there is no need to worry that learning 2 languages may confuse your little one, children pick up new languages easily and are able to differentiate whom to speak which language to. For this reason it can help to be consistent with your chosen language, just to reduce any possible confusion.
Far from multiple language learning having negative effects, there are many positive results to come out of speaking more than one language. Have a look at my post on the benefits of learning a 2nd language for more information on why it is so good for your little one!

How can I support my bilingual child?

There are many theories on the best way to support your bilingual child at home and I think it really depends on several factors. 

You need to take into account the languages spoken at home and in the community - 

Do both parents speak the same language and wish to teach your child your native language as well as the language of the country they are living in? 

If so, it may be useful to adopt a one language approach where you both speak your native language to your little one at home as they will learn the other language in the community, at nursery and from their peers. 

Does each parent speak a different language and you wish to equally develop both in your little one?

In this case, it may help to each speak to your child in your own mother tongues. This will help them build up exposure and understanding to each language and keep things consistent. It has long been recommended to use the 'one person-one language' model, however it is important to add that it has not been proven that switching between languages causes any difficulty with language learning.

Have you been brought up yourselves as bilingual?

I myself fit into this category and a question I have often asked myself is what language I will speak to my children in. As many bilinguals can verify, we often speak a complete mixture of the 2 languages, choosing whichever word fits better or is on the tip of our tongue. I know that no matter how much I try, I will end up speaking a mixture of languages to my children (although I have read articles advising against this). The main disadvantage that I can see is that your child may lack the vocabulary for certain words. For example, I always use the Arabic names for certain vegetables as that is what I learnt first. I find it difficult to this day to access the English word for them in my mind. Being brought up with a mixture of languages also means I find it difficult to stick to one language or the other when talking. I switch languages without even realising sometimes! This could be avoided by sticking to the 'one person-one language' model mentioned above. However, you have to be realistic and do what works best for your family. 

There is no right or wrong answer with teaching your child languages and remember that they will always gain the language of the country they are living with, regardless of what languages are spoken at home.

 Some tips to support your little one's language development

  • Read stories and sing songs in your native language - this will help make it fun and your little one will learn new vocabulary without even realising it!
  • Involve your child in your native community - I think this is a brilliant way to keep your native language alive. Arrange play dates with peers who are also exposed to the same language and attend community events to increase exposure to your native language and culture. 
  • Give your little one lots of support and encouragement - sometimes it can be hard to communicate in a language that they don't use in their wider community. Encourage them to use your language and also don't be annoyed if they don't. Sometimes children will understand a language 100% but refuse to speak it, choosing to respond in the other language. This is okay and there could be many reasons behind it. Be assured that if they understand what you are saying then they are still developing their language skills, it just may take longer for them to want to respond in that language. Often there is a dominant language - one that is stronger or preferred over the other. Again, this shouldn't be seen as an issue, just keep encouraging your little one's language acquisition by making it fun and pressure free.

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See you soon!

Katie is an Early Years specialist in Dubai, where she 
manages an EYFS nursery. She has a special interest 
in psychology and early childhood development. 


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