10 Things Parents of Bilingual Children Should Avoid
1 – Never criticise
Never criticise your children’s language use. You might at times feel like criticising which word or language they use in a particular situation, how they pronounce a word or any other aspect of their communication – the advice is the same, don’t criticise. If you feel a strong need to recommend a different way of saying something, repeat what they said in the way you think is correct/better/more appropriate or encourage them to come up with a better alternative by themselves.
2 – Never compare
Comparing your children’s progress in anything is not helpful at all. Children are different and develop and learn at a different pace. Don’t ever compare them to their siblings or any other children. Your task is to help them feel confident about their language use.
3 – Never ask your child to “perform”
No matter how proud you are about what languages your children know – never ask them to say something in front of others just to prove they can. Children learning languages can be very sensitive about their skills and afraid of making mistakes. Instead, engage them in a natural discussion.
4 – Never make fun of how they speak
Have fun when passing your language on to your kids, but never ever ridicule their language use. Children do sometimes come up with the most hilarious words and phrases when they learn a language, but do not make a big deal of it.
5 – Don’t expect perfection
Of course we all dream that our children will grow up and acquire a perfect command of Irish. This is however rarely the case in real life. The fluency will vary greatly – even between siblings. Think about what is important. Can they communicate with their grandparents and relatives? Are they happy to use their language in their everyday lives? If they are, a few errors here and there are not really anything to worry about!
6 – Don’t constantly correct
I am not saying that you should never help your children find the right phrase or form of a word. But avoid making it a habit so that you do it every time when they say something that is not quite correct. Being frequently put right might negatively affect both their confidence and motivation to learn more. Instead, be encouraging.
7 – Don’t be rigid
There are certain rules you can follow to make sure your children acquire your language while growing up, but do not let these principles become so rigid that it takes the fun out of learning and speaking. Occasionally switching a language is fine, more so the more fluent your children are. You want your language to be something your kids enjoy. It should not become a chore or something they avoid.
8 – Don’t ever stop communicating
Many parents have used the approach of only answering their children if they speak to them in the “right” language. You should not. You may end up leading a conversation where you and your child are speaking different languages, but this is fine.
9 – Don’t demand
You want your children to speak your language, but trying to force them to do it is not the way to achieve your goal. Make learning your language compelling for them by creating an environment which is motivating and supporting for their linguistic development, but don’t try to make them do it. You will all enjoy the journey so much more.
10 – Don’t give up
There are days when we feel nothing is going as we would like and wonder where to get the energy to continue. If you ever feel like this, think about the reasons you decided to embark on this journey in the first place. Consider all the advantages that bilingualism brings with it. Speak to other parents and ask for their support – they will be more than happy to cheer you up and help you continue. And you will be so happy you did!