Click to Look Inside: MAXIMIZE YOUR CHILD'S BILINGUAL ABILITY

7 Must-Make Resolutions for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids

January 6, 2016

7 Must-Make Resolutions for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids

Last year, I shared my New Year’s resolutions, and the year before that, my kids revealed their resolutions (in a post that features the transcript of our funny conversation).

This year, I thought I would simply compile a list of important resolutions for practically any parent intent on making proactive efforts in 2016 to advance the bilingual ability of their children. At the same time, I’ll add my personal view of each one, as it pertains to my own experience.

1. I will talk to my child as much as I can.

As I stress in The Most Powerful Thing of All in Nurturing Language Development, the more you talk to your children in the target language, the more they will (potentially) use this language to talk to you. Obviously, other factors also influence the degree of actual use, but mindfully engaging with your children each day and providing them with ample input and modeling in the minority language through speech will not only promote language development and use, it can create a closer parent-child bond.

This year my children turn 12 and 9, and I’m conscious of the fact that they—and particularly my daughter—are now growing increasingly independent and turning more toward their Japanese lives. Because our time together is being squeezed, I must make the most of the time we do have by trying to be as fully present—and as talkative—as possible.

2. I will read aloud to my child every day.

Along with ample input through speech, reading aloud to our children each day in the minority language forms the foundation for fueling strong language development as well as nurturing interest in books and literacy. The more we read aloud, and the more our children are eventually encouraged to read on their own, the more they will likely progress to higher levels of language ability. To my mind, reading aloud is a “bedrock routine” that should be faithfully pursued day after day for at least 15 minutes, with as few exceptions as possible.

I will continue reading aloud to my children each morning, for 20 minutes or so, while they eat breakfast. Even though they’re getting a bit older now, and have become capable of reading on their own, this routine is so productive—and so enjoyable for us all—that I will diligently honor it, day in and day out, not only this year but through the teen years, too.

3. I will continue building up my home library.

Hand in hand with the routine of reading aloud is the ongoing need for suitable books. Without a steady stream of books that suit the child’s age, language level, and interests, not only will the read-aloud routine falter, but there will be fewer opportunities for the child to engage with books on his own. And when you’re faced with the challenge of obtaining books in a less common language, you can turn to the tactics I describe in What to Do When It’s Hard to Find Children’s Books in Your Minority Language (like making use of wordless picture books, which can be “read” in any language).

As I mentioned in How Many Books Do You Have in Your Home?, my personal philosophy is “You can never have too many books!” And because my kids (like all kids) are perpetually growing and changing, it’s simply a necessity that I go on bringing fresh books into our home to effectively match this evolution, not only to sustain our read-aloud routine, but also to engage their independent reading.

4. I will make the most of each day with my child.

At the heart of nurturing language development is the idea of mindfully making the most of each day with our children: talking to them, reading to them, playing with them…loving them. Especially if we’re the main, or even sole, source of exposure to the minority language in our children’s lives, this intention is all the more vital if we truly wish to fulfill our hopes for their bilingual ability. But, again, this investment of time and energy not only can produce stronger progress, it can enrich the relationship between parent and child.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll probably recognize this resolution from years past—in fact, I make this resolution every year to myself because I’m almost painfully conscious of how fleeting time is and how my children will, in just another blink or two, be young adults. I realize all too well that the days of parenthood can feel awfully long at times, but the years themselves race by so quickly. I’ll be the first to admit that, amid all the busyness, I often forget my vow to “seize the day,” yet I continue trying my best to remember.

5. I will write about my bilingual journey in some form.

I think it’s true that when we write about a goal regularly, we shine more awareness on our thoughts and actions, enabling us to make more mindful, more effective efforts each day. Writing about our bilingual aim can be done in a personal journal, at our own blog, within a Facebook group, or at a forum like The Bilingual Zoo. But I firmly believe that a key habit for fueling more productive efforts, and more productive progress, lies in persistently writing about our experiences—our challenges, frustrations, and successes—in some form.

The fact that I write about my own journey so often, and in such detail, is really the most open “secret” of whatever success I’ve experienced in working with bilingual children, both my students and my own kids. And I will continue writing down my thoughts in 2016, and sharing what may be helpful to hear, because this writing not only can lend support to others, it very definitely fortifies my own daily efforts.

6. I will continue learning and growing as the parent of a bilingual child.

Raising a bilingual child is a truly inexhaustible subject, since we need knowledge not only in the areas of parenting and language acquisition, but also in practical ideas and resources for our minority language. By making a commitment to continually expand our awareness—through books, online information, interaction with other parents, etc.—we will be better able to effectively establish productive conditions for our journey and address our challenges as they arise.

To be honest, this resolution hits home—in ways both bad and good—because I’m humbly aware of my own growth as a teacher and parent of bilingual children. In fact, when I now read some of the posts I made several years ago, I can’t help but frown because today I would approach the issue or question somewhat differently, with deeper nuance. (In some cases, I even try revising them a bit.) But this is a reflection of how I continue to mature over time (that’s the better news), and I’m determined to go on learning and growing this year, too.

7. I will persevere—no matter what—and continue doing my honest best each day.

As I stress in Have You Failed at Raising a Bilingual Child?, the only way to really “fail” at the bilingual aim is to give up entirely. Despite the difficulties and frustrations you may experience, as long as you keep going and keep trying to take effective action (as lightly, playfully as you can), your child will continue to make progress. And, over time, your perseverance may well pay off in the success you seek. But this can’t happen without steadfast persistence, day after day, year after year.

In my view, this resolution is really at the heart of the whole bilingual journey, both yours and mine. Whatever difficulties and frustrations we may face, if we can just have enough perseverance to take them on in a positive spirit and address them as effectively as we’re able (after a necessary break to curse and cry :mrgreen: ), we can move forward up the long road, hand in hand, with our lovable, bilingual children.

How about you? What other resolutions do you have for 2016?

1 Katherine January 10, 2016 at 4:29 am

This is great. I’d also add:

— I will connect my child to other bilingual children who speak our language.

— I will take my child to places where this language is commonly spoken. (Restaurants, cultural centers, language class, etc.)

— We will travel/stay in areas where this language is spoken so that my child can experience how this language is spoken on an everyday basis. (Summer programs abroad, extended family visits, vacations)

I have to do this because my ability to teach my child our native language isn’t enough. We speak English predominantly and we don’t know anyone in town who speaks Korean.

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2 Adam January 10, 2016 at 5:48 am

Katherine, yes, these actions are very helpful, and become vital, really, when there is limited exposure to the minority language from the parents themselves. I wish you a proactive and productive year!

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