I recently read a book by Naomi Steiner, MD that gave tips on raising bilingual children. Most of the steps she outlined in the book were helpful as my husband and I thrive in a multilingual household. We'd like our children to be fluent in the main languages that we speak as we want them to realize, later on, that learning each of their parent's language draws them closer to each of their parent's culture. Here are seven tips on raising bilingual children:
1. The OPOL Method
The One-Parent-One-Language (OPOL) Method is, for us, the most convenient among all tips on raising bilingual children. Why? Because it's simple: one parent speaks one language and communicates to the children using that language. In our case, it's English for Jeff and Cebuano (a language in the Philippines) for me. Don't worry, your children won't be confused. There may be a slight language delay because they are building two vocabulary banks, but it'll pay off in the long term.
2. Storytelling Helps
This one is a bit tricky for me because there are not many children's storybooks written in Cebuano. But I manage by: (1) writing my own stories in Cebuano; and (2) reading the English storybooks to them in Cebuano. Jeff, on the other hand, reads the English newspaper to them every morning. We also have a reading nook where we spend time reading and storytelling.
3. Act as if You Don't Understand
It will happen that your children will try talking to you in the language that you don't use to speak with them. For example, I speak to them in Cebuano but they tried to speak to me in English. When that happens, resist the urge to respond. Because if you do, they might just communicate to you in the other language and not in your language. It's a tough game that requires discipline and determination.
4. Practice Every Day
Language acquisition requires exposure so it's best if you practice using the language every day. It doesn't have to be a structured drill. Communicate using the language in the most ordinary way; when you ask them about school or when you're preparing dinner. Any time is a good time to practice.
5. Watch Shows Together
We limit our children's exposure to television to two hours every day. We just don't want TV to be the babysitter. When our children watch a show, we watch it with them. That way, there is immediate feedback whenever they need clarification on anything.
6. Let Them Cook with You
Language is one of the purest expressions of culture; so is food. Jeff and I grew up in homes where we were stuffed with delectable dishes which mark the cultures that we come from. Having your kids in the kitchen with you means practicing or teaching them new words, and passing to them a family recipe. No one refuses food!
7. Let Them Talk to Relatives
We live in China; a country that speaks another language to our own so we make sure we visit our respective countries once a year. I love seeing the expressions of my children when we visit the Philippines and they hear my Mom and siblings speaking in Nanay's language (my children call me "Nanay", which is the Philippine word for mother). The same thing goes when we visit the US and they hear their aunts, uncles, and cousins speaking in English.
I was raised in a multilingual household too! It's way cool to be able to speak more than one language. Any more tips you can add to this list?