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12 Points for Parents to Remember about Bilingualism

The following is a list of 12 points that will help parents raising children bilingually:

1 – It doesn’t happen by magic
Children do not become bilingual “by magic.” There is a common myth that “children are like sponges when it comes to language” and that they will learn all languages they hear at their ease – this is simply not true. Yes, in the right circumstances children will naturally grow up to acquire the family languages, but this cannot be taken for granted.
2 – You need a plan
To  succeed in raising bilingual children, you need to plan ahead. How fluent do you want your children to be? What about reading and writing materials and other resources? Who will speak which language and when? Parents should discuss these matters and agree on goals.
3 – Consistency is crucial
Once you have a plan, you need to commit to it as a family and stay consistent in language use. Yes, children can certainly become bilingual if parents mix their languages with them, but there is a risk that they will at some point opt to use the majority language if they become their parents are inconsistent.
4 – You will have to pay attention to exposure times
You need to look into how much exposure your children have with each language. There is a general recommendation (there is, however, no scientific proof for this) that children should be exposed to a language at least thirty percent of their waking time to naturally become bilingual. This should only be taken as a guidance – depending on the type of exposure, children might need more or less time to acquire a language.
5 – You will have to invest some extra time (and sometimes maybe a bit of money)
You will need to find the time talk a lot, to do background reading and to find resources to help your children learn the language. You might find that you need to use your holidays to make a trip to boost your children’s motivation to speak the language.
6 – There will be doubters
Not everyone will agree with you that it is a good idea to raise your children to speak a minority languages. There will be those who tell you that there is no point, that it is not going to work. Others will think that you are expecting too much of your children, and some will say that you are confusing your children with all these languages. Ignore these doubters, but also, forgive them, as they do not know what they are talking about.
7 – Don’t listen to bad advice
There might be times when a professional tells you to stop speaking a certain language to your children. If in doubt with regards to your child’s language development – speak to a specialist who is experienced in dealing with bilingual children. Not all health workers have experience and knowledge of bilingualism.
8 – It is not always easy
There will be many challenges on your family’s multilingual journey – apart from the doubters and the ill-informed; there will also be more mundane obstacles – will you be able to stick to your plan when life demands gets in the way and possible unplanned changing circumstances, moving home, career progressions, influence from others and so on? When it feels difficult, ask for advice and help.
9 – Your child might answer you in the ‘wrong’ language
Even though you have done everything right and stayed consistent, children will often speak the majority community language by default. They may come home from school one day and no longer answer you in your language. This can be disappointing and disheartening, but it is crucial that you don’t give up, and that you continue to stay consistent and if possible, also increase the exposure time.
10 – Your children will gain an array of benefits by becoming bilingual
If you are still in doubt about whether to bring up your children to become bilinguals or not, read about all the great benefits they will gain if you do decide to. We all want what is best for our children, so why would you not support them to have the wonderful gift of speaking more than one language?
11 – You will never regret it
You will not regret your decision to stick with the plan and make sure that your children grow up to speak all the family languages. On the other hand, I have heard several parents who are sad that they gave up on passing on their languages – not to mention the many adults expressing their disappointment that they were not taught a language their mother or father knew when they were small.
12 – You will be proud
You will be immensely proud when your children for the first time speak to their grandparents or other relatives in ‘their’ language. I can assure you that the feeling is absolutely wonderful. Not only will you be proud, so will your children and the rest of your family. You will also be a great role model to other families.

The above article was originally published on Glór na nGael is grateful to COGG for permission to use it.