Raising Multilingual Children Successfully

Firstly, I would like to clarify that my definition of a multilingual child is that a child is learning two or more languages at same time. I believe that raising multilingual children is one of the best gifts we can give to our children, which gives our children an edge to succeed in the global society. How do you define your success for Raising Multilingual Children?

In the previous post, “Raising a Multilingual Child: The Pros and Cons (part 2)“I mentioned that we are going to discuss on how to raise a multilingual child successfully. Here, let’s discuss on it.

How do you define your success for raising multilingual children?

Each child is different, and each family is different. The definition of success for raising a multilingual child should be different. My definition is that as long as I try my best to provide the languages rich environment and motivate and guide my children as possible as I can. I am a successful parent who is raising a multilingual child.

What’s your unique situation?

Raising a multilingual child can be a choice that some families make, while for other families it is just a way of living and it comes naturally.

There are different types of multilingual families. In order to make the discussion easier, here we categorize them into four types.

  1. Originally, the family is a monolingual family, they just speak one language same as the physical living environment, but the family believes in the importance of speaking another language.
  2. A  monolingual family live in a different language environment. A lots of immigration families are examples of this category.
  3. A bilingual family in a same language environment. For example a Spanish mother and English father living in the united states. One of the parents speaks a minority language while the other speaks the majority language, which is the same as the physical living environment, and both languages are used at home. This kind of families fall into this category.
  4. A Multilingual family living in a different language environment. For example, a Chinese mother, and a German father living and bringing up their children in the united states. Each parent speaks a language different to the majority language and the children are exposed at least to three languages, the mother’s, the father’s and the majority language spoken in the school and community.

How can we raising multilingual children successfully?

The answer varies depending on each child and each family. What works for one family might not work for another. Find a unique way meeting your child and your family needs. The most important thing is to know your situation, relax, be happy with your child’s language development and enjoy the journey with your child and your family.

Here are some of the thoughts and tips that I would like to share with you.

  1. Define your own success for raising a multilingual child by your own situation and needs. Set high goals to pursue, but have reality expectation.
    In the reality, even if your child does not become perfectly bilingual. You child will still have the neurological, cultural and social advantages that a different language and a different mindset can give him or her. You have given your child the best possible linguistic start in life, let him or her explore later.
  2. Talk with you spouse or partners and make a agreement on raising a multilingual child. Ask other family members, such as grandparents to cooperate.
  3. There is no one right way to do it. Each child is different, each family is different, and what works for some families may be unrealistic for others. Try different methods to find out what works best for your particular situation.
  4. You can try two different methods:
    • The person orientated method : One or more persons always speak to the child in a particular language.
    • The time or place orientated method : The whole family always speak a particular language in a particular place, for example at home or at a particular time for example in the evening or on Sunday.
  5. Start early as possible as you can. If you have a native language, speak it from birth and even during pregnancy with your child.
  6. It is never too late to start. The earlier the better, but if you give your child rich language environment, put in sufficient effort, you child can become really fluent.
  7. To help your child to develop listening and speaking skills, talk to your child as much as you can; provide your child audio study materials such as podcast, CDs; video study materials, such as video cast, DVDs; visit relatives and friends who are saying the languages you child is learning; talk with the person who speaks the languages in your community; travel to the courtiers, in which the languages are speaking, if you have the opportunities. A Multilingual Talking Dictionary is a great tool helping us to learn and master the languages.
  8. To help your child to develop reading skills, read to your child as much as you can. In addition, provide your child books, language learning games, find multilingual schools to help you child on reading.
  9. To help your child to develop writing skills, provide your child handwriting worksheet and writing composition worksheet. A multilingual school or after school program helps your child on writing.
  10. Be prepare for difficulties. As your child grows older or as goals for proficiency progress from speaking and listening to reading and writing, you sure encounter some difficulties.
    Confusion is normal for a multilingual child. Your child may use more than one language in their sentences. Even when they make mistakes, they may sound confused, at some point. Don’t worry, just gently repeat everything in the language you want them to speak, your child will master the language.
    Once your child starts school, like any multilingual child, he or she will revert to the ‘dominant language’ , the language taught in at school. Parents speak in their mother tongue and the children reply for example in English. Many parents make the mistake to give up trying and revert to English themselves.  Be prepared to make sure you persevere.
  11. Make your effort but try to in a natural way.  I believe what comes naturally is the best, because then you will be consistent. It is the only self-imposed rule that works. Raising a multilingual child is a commitment. Language learning is a long-term investment in your child and will require that you are able to provide enough language exposure.
  12. Find multilingual communities, share experience, learn and get motivated and enjoy in your raising multilingual children journey. If you relax, enjoy it and make it fun, your child will enjoy it too and be more likely to use their additional languages.

Parents, if you agree with me, let’s help our children to build a valuable skill they’ll use in numerous ways for the rest of their lives! Start early as possible as we can and sows the seeds for greater success in mastering the languages and our children will benefit it in many ways for life.

What’s your unique situation? What’s your thoughts on Raising Multilingual Children?

If you are interested, please refer to “Multilingual Books Review“.

To learn more parenting skills, please refer to great parenting books.

6 thoughts on “Raising Multilingual Children Successfully

  1. It can be difficult to get practiced individuals within this issue, you seem like you no doubt know what you are talking about! Thx

  2. Hi there

    Good points here.

    Kids minds have nothing else to worry about, therefore learning becomes easier & rentention is excellent.

    The one additional thing to point out is that children often pick up a third language and even a fourth much easier if they are dual languaged as a child. This is the case with my eldest daughter who is 12.

    Decide early and persist!


    Wayne Evans

  3. Pingback: Raising a Multilingual Child: The Pros and Cons (Part 1)多言語子育て:長所と短所(その1) | Parenting Focus

  4. Hello, I also agree that children should have the opportunity to learn a foreign language in a natural way. However I am a little worried about my son because of our multilingual situation. We come from a Spanish speaking country and my son was raised in Spanish during his first two years (at home and at school). I think his language skills are good because he was saying his first words at age 1 (words we could understand like cookie, eat, milk, car). At the begining of this year we moved to Hong Kong and I registerd him at a bilingual school ( he has classes both in English and Cantonese), and he learned really fast English (I can say his English is as good as his Spanish), and he is now understanding lots of Cantonese and speaks some words. However this year the school added Mandarin lessons to the curricula and I am a little concerned if this is maybe too much for him. I can help him at home with English and Mandarin, reviewing homeworks and practicing new vocabulary. However I dont know if it is already too much for him and dont want to put him under too much pressure. He seems happy to go to school every day and does not show any sign of stress. But I think we need some guidance to be sure he does well and does not feel stress about this language confusion.

  5. Hi Laura,
    Thank you for your comment.
    I understand your concern. For many families, multilingual is not a choice, is a way to living. Kids are very adaptable than we usually thought. As your child is happy, I think he is doing well. Since you child is learning three languages, it is better to help your child spend his energy on each language appropriately depending on your priority. As we all have limited time, to raise your child trilingual needs good planning. Each family is unique and each child is different. I do agree that to become trilingual, especially to be able to read and write in three languages needs a lot of work.

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