5 REAL-LIFE TIPS ON RAISING BILINGUAL CHILDREN…
From a Mum that’s done it!
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to raise bilingual children? Ever wished you could speak more than one language? Coming from England, growing up speaking only English, I thought about both a lot.
Luckily for me, I met and married a wonderful man from South Africa whose first language is Afrikaans. We are now raising our children to read, write and speak English and Afrikaans fluently.
Funnily enough though, this is not unusual here in South Africa. In a country that has 11 official languages, it is common practice for people to speak two languages fluently as a minimum. Maybe it’s even taken for granted a little bit. But little old me, being an English expat, I’m amazed when I hear people flitting between different languages.
Growing up in the English school system in the 80’s and 90’s (yes, I am that old!), I was not exposed to a second language until I went to High School at the grand old age of twelve, when I suddenly had to learn French and German. Research and life experience has made it abundantly clear that this is far to old to start learning a second language for the majority of people.
In my early working life, I had the pleasure of taking many trips to Germany to press-pass the magazines I was working on. My account manager at the time spoke six languages! All fluently! Mind. Blown. But…he had been learning since the age of three. They start them early in Germany. They are clever like that! But it seems to be the same in most European countries. Apart from England. sulk sulk!
Truth be told, if you want a bilingual child, you need to start early. Kids absorb so much. Even when they can’t speak, they can understand and learn. You just have to be consistent.
When our daughter was born, we were living in Dubai, and even though we wanted her to grow up knowing English and Afrikaans, my husband barely spoke it to her at home. I guess he was just in English mode. He spoke to me in English, worked in English, watched t.v in English. She knew ‘dankie‘ was thank you, and she knew ‘ek is lief vir jou‘ was I love you. But other than than, she was English through and through.
So began our plans to move back to South Africa and make it our home.
Six months after our son was born, we left Dubai and settled in the Western Cape. We enrolled our then almost four year old daughter in an Afrikaans class at pre-school, and thanks to the wonderful teaching staff, she was happily speaking with her new Afrikaans friends after only a couple of months. I was one proud Mummy! The school life was also backed up by the fact that my husband was now speaking Afrikaans a heck of a lot more at home. I was also one proud Wifie!
We have done the same with our son and he is thriving. He actually says he’s Afrikaans, even though he’s in the English class now at school. (Sadly we are not allowed to educate our children in the compulsory school system in Afrikaans because I, as the chief homework helper, am English! Silly rule if you ask me!). The good thing is, they will at least learn Afrikaans from the age of 7 as a second language.
So if you’re reading this because you have a little one that you’d like to be bilingual, or you’re dreaming of your future bundle of joy being bilingual, my advice to you is this:
I can’t stress this enough. Start as young as possible. If you aren’t in a mixed-nationality marriage, maybe you are fortunate enough to have a Nanny/Baby-sitter/Home Help. You could employ someone who speaks a different language. If it’s good enough for the Duchess of Cambridge, whose Nanny is Spanish, it should be good enough for you. You could also play some language tapes on a daily basis as background noise while your child falls to sleep or plays quietly. You might not think it’s doing anything but I guarantee you that your child will absorb what they hear.
Your child will never learn another language if they don’t hear it constantly. Get books and find children’s cartoon DVD’s in the language you have chosen. If you are able to find a radio station in the language, have it on at home and in the car. Surround yourself with it.
LISTEN TO SONGS
In a previous post that I wrote on Zwannie Books, I talked about why it’s good to rhyme and one of the reasons is that rhythm and rhyme is easily remembered. I personally find myself singing Afrikaans songs to myself or having them on repeat in my head, and it definitely helps me pick up a few extra words without me really realising it.
DON’T GIVE UP!.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. The rewards will be worth it. Young children who are exposed to other languages early on and who develop language skills in more than one language will find it easier to learn other skills too and also pick up other languages in their later lives. Constantly flitting between two languages can lead to better multi-tasking skills and can help extend your attention span.
DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN!
Above all else, learning a new language should be fun. Say no more!
I’d love to hear your stories on raising bilingual children. Send us a comment in the section below.
P.S. If you like what you read, please share this post so others can enjoy too and I can keep the ‘wine’ flowing!