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Raising Bilingual Children: 17 Actions That Will Strengthen the Odds of Success

Raising a bilingual child is about odds. Every family inherently faces certain odds of success based on its particular set of circumstances.

For example, broadly speaking, the odds of success are higher when the minority language parent is the main caregiver, and lower when the minority language parent is not.

Another example is schooling. When a child receives schooling in the minority language, this raises the odds of success tremendously. On the other hand, the odds will drop by a significant degree when the child attends school in the majority language, particularly if this education offers little or no exposure to the minority language.

One more example is travel. The odds of success will generally rise, or fall, in proportion to the frequency of trips taken to locations where the minority language is widely spoken.

These examples, in fact, cover some of the basic conditions of my own situation…and all three are weighted toward lowering the odds of success: I’m not the main caregiver; my children (now 11 and 8) have always gone to majority language schools; and we rarely travel abroad.

Your aim and your effort

Let me stress, of course, that “success” in raising a bilingual child will naturally be measured differently by different families. The aim itself may be higher or lower, depending on the parent. In my case, my aim has always been high as I seek to foster ability in the minority language that’s roughly on par with monolingual children, in all skill areas.

Whatever the aim, it’s a personal decision and I’m happy to support any sincere goal that parents hold. However, it’s crucial that all of us clearly gauge the odds of success for our circumstances and, if the conditions themselves can’t be reshaped in more favorable ways, actively exert the necessary amount of effort, day after day, in order to raise those odds to the degree that will produce the desired outcome.

This is why I’ve been so diligently proactive since my kids were born: Because my basic circumstances evoke lower odds of success—and yet my aim is high—I’ve had to overcome these conditions by taking daily actions that will put the odds more in my favor.

Below are 17 of these actions. You may not want to, or even need to, undertake all these actions to achieve the aim you seek. But I suggest that the more of these actions you pursue, the more you will raise the odds of success and fuel your children’s language development more strongly.

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It’s true. My son called me a butthead and I couldn’t be happier.

Not long ago we bought an iPad. For some time I had been hesitating to get one, concerned that I wouldn’t be able to control its use in the family well and that it might become a negative influence on my kids. Like their father, they have addictive personalities. :mrgreen:

But overall, it’s proving to have a mostly positive impact. I now use it regularly to write on the go, like a laptop, and I’ve been pretty cautious about the kinds of apps I download to it, seeking out those that can help stretch their minority language.

I also established the rule that they can only use the iPad if they’ve completed their other tasks for the day, and only for 30 minutes.

Fractured finger

But in late June my 8-year-old son fractured the middle finger of his left hand, playing dodgeball, and I felt bad for him. The poor boy loves soccer and participates in a soccer club on Fridays, but now he was sidelined for a whole month, with a big bandage on his hand.

So I downloaded a soccer app for him, a fun little game called Soccer Physics, hoping that this would help cheer him up during this downtime. (Try it, it’s an amusing game, and requires no special language skill to play.)

And he loves it. In fact, this is the only app he uses these days. But the truth is, I think this choice has been too engaging because not only does the game lack the educational value of the other apps, he regularly gets upset when I tell him his 30 minutes are up and it’s time to stop.

This happened again the other day, and though usually I’m less than pleased by these incidents, something more occurred this time, something that, when I paused to think about it, was a clear reflection of the success I’ve experienced with my kids when it comes to the minority language.

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Instant Inspiration for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids

In spring 2014, I released the eBook Instant Inspiration for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids. The response to this unique resource was very positive and I’m so thankful to all those who made a contribution, in exchange for the eBook, to help support my work at Bilingual Monkeys and The Bilingual Zoo. As promised, 100% of these funds have gone toward maintaining and enhancing these two websites.

Meanwhile, I’ve also heard from some parents who wanted a copy of the eBook but weren’t able, for one reason or another, to make a donation online. (So I imagine there are others, too, who haven’t contacted me.) In fact, I’ve felt badly about this, because my main purpose in creating this resource was to lend support to other parents. Of course, the funds I’ve received have been really helpful, but I basically viewed this project as a nonprofit effort.

And so, I’ve decided to make the eBook available to all, entirely for free. At the same time, if Bilingual Monkeys and The Bilingual Zoo are of value to you, and you’re able to give something back by making a small contribution, this is still possible, too, and I would be grateful for your support. But it’s completely up to you: download the eBook for free or for an amount of your choice.

Get Instant Inspiration for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids

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“I Can’t Do This Alone”: Remarkable Message from a Bilingual Toddler

The other day I was at a friend’s house in Hiroshima. He has a daughter who’s about a year and a half. Like me, he’s a native English speaker and his wife is Japanese and he wants his daughter to be bilingual.

At one point, as my friend was fiddling with his iPhone, the little girl huffed, grabbed up a fat red crayon, and began scratching furiously on a piece of paper.

This is what she produced…

Remarkable message in "preliterate script"

Now I know it just looks like a lot of scribbling, but the truth is, it’s a kind of “preliterate script” used by toddlers, and I’m able to translate this script into English. (I took a course on this in graduate school.) And when I did, my friend was shocked at the remarkable message his daughter had written to him. In fact, I think this will make an important difference to his whole bilingual journey.

Here’s my translation of her message…

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Speech-Language Pathologist Tells All About Bilingualism, Speech, and Language Delays

The question I am asked most often when talking about raising my children bilingually is, “But won’t that confuse them?” Often times I believe the hidden or unspoken question behind this query is, “Won’t they be delayed if you do that?”

The first thing I want to address as a speech-language specialist is that there is no research-based evidence that bilingualism causes language disorders. Again and again the research demonstrates no negative effects of bilingualism, even for children with known language impairments, such as children with Down Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder, for example. It has been shown that children with language impairments are capable of learning two languages. The impairment will be evident in both languages, but it will not be made worse or become more severe because of the bilingualism. In other words, the exposure to two languages is not adding to the language impairment, and the language impairment would likely have been present even if the child was monolingual. Yet another way of explaining this is that bilingualism does not make children more or less susceptible to language disorders.

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Do You Really Have Enough Resources in the Minority Language? (Hint: The Answer is Always "No.")

The work I do coaching parents to boost their success in raising bilingual kids is not only gratifying, it’s revealing. Lately, one recurring theme I see is a lack of resources in the minority language, an observation that isn’t meant as criticism of these families. Because in fact, I would say that all of us, to a smaller or larger degree, never really have enough resources in our target language.

Unless children are schooled in the minority language, and have ready access to a library full of books and other materials (and even a librarian to boot), I think this hunger for resources is unavoidable. After all, our children are continuously growing and maturing and new resources are needed on an ongoing basis to match their age, their language level, and their current interests.

In my case, for example, I’m now constantly searching for books that will fuel my children’s enthusiasm for reading independently. While I don’t always choose winners, my quest is relentless to meet the pace of their daily reading. If I don’t stay persistent by regularly bringing in fresh and fitting resources, their desire to read in the minority language will quickly decline. (It’s times like these I wish we had access to a well-stocked school library!)

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The Ultimate Crossword Puzzle About Raising Bilingual Kids!

I made a crossword puzzle for you! Feel free to download it for personal or professional use. And if you like it, please share it with others. I think it’s the only crossword puzzle of its kind! :mrgreen:

To get the two-page PDF file, just click this big link…

The Ultimate Crossword Puzzle About Raising Bilingual Kids! (PDF)

To check your answers, click this link…

ANSWERS to The Ultimate Crossword Puzzle About Raising Bilingual Kids!

Good luck! And if you complete it—without peeking at the answers first—you’re welcome to boast in a comment below!

He Lived for 29,771 Days

He lived for 29,771 days.

In this time, he created nearly 3000 paintings which feature only the dates on which they were made: meticulous white lettering inscribed on backgrounds of red, blue, or gray. He produced these paintings in more than 100 cities worldwide, using the language of each locale. If he couldn’t finish a day’s painting by midnight, he would destroy it.

Nearly 3000 paintings

He sent more than 1500 postcards and over 900 telegrams to acquaintances from places around the world. The postcards had no message; they were stamped only with the time he had woken up that day. The telegrams always bore the same message: “I am still alive.”

More than 1500 postcards and over 900 telegrams

He also made a typewritten list of 1,000,000 years—twice: going back into the distant past, from 998,031 B.C. through 1969 A.D., and stretching far into the future, from 1996 A.D. to 1,001,995 A.D. Together, these lists of 2,000,000 years fill 20 hardbound volumes, each containing 2,068 pages. The dedication reads: “For all those who have lived and died.”

Lists of 2,000,000 years

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New Research Shows Reading Aloud Promotes Brain Activity and Language Development

The first scientific study of its kind has yielded findings which indicate that reading aloud to children has a measurable impact on brain activity and language development.

In a study of preschoolers which used fMRI whole-brain imaging to explore the benefits of parents reading to young children, Dr. John Hutton and his colleagues at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found significant differences in brain activity between children who are read to regularly in the home and those that receive less cognitive stimulation. For this experiment, children underwent a brain scan while listening to age-appropriate stories on headphones.

Dr. Hutton presented his findings in a lecture titled “Parent-Child Reading Increases Activation of Brain Networks Supporting Emergent Literacy in 3-5 Year-Old Children: An fMRI Study” at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in April.

In a press release from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Hutton said, “We are excited to show, for the first time, that reading exposure during the critical stage of development prior to kindergarten seems to have a meaningful, measurable impact on how a child’s brain processes stories and may help predict reading success.”

The press release goes on to report that “greater home reading exposure was strongly associated with activation of specific brain areas supporting semantic processing (the extraction of meaning from language). These areas are critical for oral language and later for reading.”

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How High a Priority is Your Bilingual Journey?

This question cuts right to the heart of the efforts you make and the results you produce. If you’re not satisfied with those results, it would be wise to look long and hard at how high this priority really is in your life.

“We realize our dilemma goes deeper than shortage of time; it is basically a problem of priorities. We confess, we have left undone those things that we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” —Charles Hummel

The other day I posted a new challenge at The Bilingual Zoo…

Challenge #8: Make This the Highest Priority You Can

This challenge has prompted a wave of constructive thinking and discussion among members of The Bilingual Zoo community. If, like most of us, you must work hard to maintain sufficient exposure to the minority language, amid busy days in a majority language environment, this is a conversation worth joining. And, in particular, if you feel dissatisfied with the results you’ve achieved to date, I urge you to pause and pursue this challenge. After all, if you’re not realizing your hopes for your children, isn’t it best to either make this a higher priority—and make more proactive efforts—or, otherwise, set lower expectations for the outcome?

“Don’t waste your breath proclaiming what’s really important to you. How you spend your time says it all.” —Eric Zorn

To see all the current challenges at The Bilingual Zoo—challenges that can empower your efforts and boost your children’s bilingual development—visit the Take a Challenge board.

Becoming a member of The Bilingual Zoo is easy and free: just register for an account and complete your profile. (An annual donation to help support the site is encouraged, but not required.)

“Time is an equal opportunity employer. Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day. Rich people can’t buy more hours. Scientists can’t invent new minutes. And you can’t save time to spend it on another day. Even so, time is amazingly fair and forgiving. No matter how much time you’ve wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow. Success depends upon using it wisely—by planning and setting priorities.” —Denis Waitley

Check out this important new challenge now…

Challenge #8: Make This the Highest Priority You Can

Here’s a new infographic on bilingualism and its many myths.

Bloggers, feel free to embed this image on your site by grabbing the code below.

9 Lesser-Known Myths About Bilingualism

Grab this code to embed the image! (Just copy and paste!)

Click to view all my fun infographics about bilingual kids!