How to raise a multilingual child

October 24, 2022

Don’t we all envy bilingual (or even trilingual!) people? Whilst you’re stumbling to order your morning coffee in Verona, they’re flaunting their skills, discussing current affairs with the barista. For those who have dedicated themselves to their foreign language skills in adulthood, any envy we have is balanced out by admiration. More power to them for sticking with that grammar book. But what about those select few who have never even touched a foreign language dictionary, but seem to be equally capable in Tokyo, Berlin and London. How have they managed that! 

What unites these linguistic powerhouses is, invariably, a childhood full of exposure to multiple languages. Whether it is thanks to parents who have different mother tongues, foreign nannies or TV shows from overseas, children who grow up multilingual start life with a tremendous advantage. So, whether you and your significant other speak different languages and wish to impart that ability on your child, or you are monolingual but are keen to spark a linguistic interest in your little one, here are some top tips to help you raise a multilingual child.

  1. Try not to confuse your child – stick with OPOL

For families where two or more languages are already being spoken, OPOL (one language, one person) is the way. Each person speaks to the child in the same language consistently and does not speak the other. Even if one member of the family doesn’t speak a language perfectly, they should try their hardest to speak it. They and your child will learn together!

  1. Buy lots of foreign language books

Once you have got your child relatively exposed to different languages, and if they have reached the age of literacy, get them reading books in multiple languages. Top tip: buy their favourite titles in those foreign languages. Whether it is Harry Potter or Tintin, they won’t think twice about reading them, making their language learning fun and sustainable.

  1. Tie different languages to different cultural activities

Let’s say you are trying to teach your child Italian and French. Those languages are far more likely to stick in your child’s brain if they understand how they fit into those countries’ wider cultures. So perhaps next time you go buy a croissant or pain au chocolate, chat to your child in French in the café. Or if you go visit an exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci, don’t hesitate to converse in Italian.

  1. Utilise screen time

Children love screens. Whether it is an iPad, laptop or TV, pixels are a magnet for their little eyes. Use that to your advantage and stick on a foreign movie, or if they are old enough, allow them to watch foreign Netflix series by themselves, as long as it is in the original language. 

  1. Find a caregiver who speaks the second (or third) language

Perhaps you can’t rely on your partner to introduce a second language into the household. Perhaps you a working parent, too busy or tired to think about another aspect of your child’s education. There is a simple solution to these problems. Find a bilingual nanny and make sure they only speak that minority language to your child. This will enforce their learning because they will need to speak that language to communicate.

How to raise a multilingual child

October 24, 2022

Don’t we all envy bilingual (or even trilingual!) people? Whilst you’re stumbling to order your morning coffee in Verona, they’re flaunting their skills, discussing current affairs with the barista. For those who have dedicated themselves to their foreign language skills in adulthood, any envy we have is balanced out by admiration. More power to them for sticking with that grammar book. But what about those select few who have never even touched a foreign language dictionary, but seem to be equally capable in Tokyo, Berlin and London. How have they managed that! 

What unites these linguistic powerhouses is, invariably, a childhood full of exposure to multiple languages. Whether it is thanks to parents who have different mother tongues, foreign nannies or TV shows from overseas, children who grow up multilingual start life with a tremendous advantage. So, whether you and your significant other speak different languages and wish to impart that ability on your child, or you are monolingual but are keen to spark a linguistic interest in your little one, here are some top tips to help you raise a multilingual child.

  1. Try not to confuse your child – stick with OPOL

For families where two or more languages are already being spoken, OPOL (one language, one person) is the way. Each person speaks to the child in the same language consistently and does not speak the other. Even if one member of the family doesn’t speak a language perfectly, they should try their hardest to speak it. They and your child will learn together!

  1. Buy lots of foreign language books

Once you have got your child relatively exposed to different languages, and if they have reached the age of literacy, get them reading books in multiple languages. Top tip: buy their favourite titles in those foreign languages. Whether it is Harry Potter or Tintin, they won’t think twice about reading them, making their language learning fun and sustainable.

  1. Tie different languages to different cultural activities

Let’s say you are trying to teach your child Italian and French. Those languages are far more likely to stick in your child’s brain if they understand how they fit into those countries’ wider cultures. So perhaps next time you go buy a croissant or pain au chocolate, chat to your child in French in the café. Or if you go visit an exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci, don’t hesitate to converse in Italian.

  1. Utilise screen time

Children love screens. Whether it is an iPad, laptop or TV, pixels are a magnet for their little eyes. Use that to your advantage and stick on a foreign movie, or if they are old enough, allow them to watch foreign Netflix series by themselves, as long as it is in the original language. 

  1. Find a caregiver who speaks the second (or third) language

Perhaps you can’t rely on your partner to introduce a second language into the household. Perhaps you a working parent, too busy or tired to think about another aspect of your child’s education. There is a simple solution to these problems. Find a bilingual nanny and make sure they only speak that minority language to your child. This will enforce their learning because they will need to speak that language to communicate.

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