Saturday 21 February 2015

Language strategies for bilingual families


There are many families today who live in a country where the majority spoken language is different from their own. Also, there are many multicultural families where each parent may speak a different language. With this comes the language dilemma; which language should I teach my child? Should they speak the majority language? Should they speak my language? Should they speak multiple languages? And, how should I go about doing this?

With two-thirds of the world's population being multilingual, it seems reasonable to think that multilingualism is achievable. There are many people who simply have to learn multiple languages in order to survive in multilingual societies. There are others who learn another language out of choice. There are some who pass on their first language to their children and others who don't which can lead to the extinction of some languages, but this is inevitable.

For me, the benefits of bilingualism are obvious. If you are able to understand more than one language, you are able to have access to more information, different experiences and different ways of life. Maybe it will enable you to have more work-related opportunities or perhaps it will enable you to communicate with family members in different countries. Not only are there many practical advantages of being bilingual, there are also cognitive advantages. Bilingualism increases cognitive abilities such as attention and flexibility. You may also be better at learning other languages at school.

So, how can you bring up your child bilingual or multilingual? Here are some strategies:

One parent, one language

Perhaps the most common strategy in multicultural families is for one parent to speak one language and the other parent to speak another language. This may be the easiest for the parents as they are both able to speak their native language with their child. The child also benefits from this because they are hearing the language from a native speaker. If you are not proficient in a language you should probably not be speaking it to your child as they can learn it incorrectly. For example, they may learn incorrect grammar or pronunciation. Stick to what you know best.

Minority language

If both parents speak one language proficiently and this is different to the majority language of the society, then they can both speak the minority language to the child. This is not usually a problem as the child will have plenty of access to the majority language at school and in the environment outside of the home. This is how a lot of immigrant families bring up their children and it works very well. They will all speak the minority language at home and when the child starts school they will be exposed to the majority language and in most cases pick this up quite quickly.

Different times for different languages

Another way a child can learn a minority language is by using the language at specific times throughout the day or week. For example, you could have French Tuesdays where the whole family will  make the effort to speak French on Tuesdays. You could have Turkish at meal times or German in the mornings and English in the afternoons. There are many different combinations you can try out and see which work best for your family.

Which language strategy do you use in your household?



  1. We are a multicultural family, but at the moment, we don't use any language strategies - it's about time to start as I want little man to learn both languages! :) x

    1. You should start as soon as possible. The younger the better. Hope you find a strategy that works for your family :)

  2. I was wondering this the other day as there is a little boy who does the same school route and his parents speak to him in Polish. Where I live there isn't anyone else who speaks different languages so I thought it must be strange for him to speak English at school and another language at home.

    1. It does seem strange to monolinguals but so many people in the world speak more than one language and it's entirely normal for them! They get used to it. We are probably the odd ones out living in England where a lot of people are not monolingual. lol

  3. This is a lovely post ^__^
    My Mam is welsh, so whilst I was growing up I was lucky enough to learn to read & count in both english & welsh, I can't speak it fluently, but I'm so pleased that I had the opportunity to learn - I'm sure I picked it up much quicker as a child! xx

    1. That's great Pixee! It is so much easier to learn as a child isn't it? You're lucky you had the opportunity :)


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