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.
17 actions to raise the odds
1. Stay conscious and proactive, day after day. Make the bilingual aim one of your highest priorities and give it the time and attention it deserves. The target language, as well as your parent-child bond, will be better for it. (See A Friend of Mine Died and This Might Be the Very Best Thing About Raising Bilingual Kids (And It’s Probably Not What You Expect).)
2. Recognize, keenly, that your children want to be bilingual, too—even when they’re just babies or become rebellious youngsters. (Not convinced? See Your Child Wants to Be Bilingual!)
3. Show daily persistence and long-term perseverance. Have faith that your efforts will pay off over time. (See The One Thing You Absolutely, Positively Must Have to Raise a Bilingual Child and The Dark Secret to Success at Raising Bilingual Kids.)
4. Establish a strategy of language use that serves your family effectively, and stick to this approach consistently (until a change is warranted). (See What’s the Best Language Strategy for Raising Bilingual Children?)
5. Provide ample exposure to the minority language from a variety of different angles each day. (See How Many Hours Per Week Is Your Child Exposed to the Minority Language? and 96 Things You Can Do Today to Boost Your Child’s Bilingual Ability,)
6. Talk a lot to your children in the target language, taking full advantage of the first few formative years, which can be crucial for “conditioning” them to use the minority language actively when they begin to speak. (See The Most Powerful Thing of All in Nurturing Language Development.)
7. Read aloud to your children in the minority language for at least 15 minutes every day, right from birth and continuing throughout childhood. (See The Secret to Raising a Bilingual Child.)
8. Build a sizable home library of books in the minority language as well as a home environment rich in other minority language resources, too, like music, video, and games. (See How Many Books Do You Have in Your Home? and Do You Really Have Enough Resources in the Minority Language? (Hint: The Answer is Always “No.”).)
9. Condition your children to prefer media in the minority language by emphasizing TV, DVDs, and apps in this language from the time you introduce such resources into their young lives. (See Are You Accidentally Hindering Your Child’s Bilingual Progress?)
10. Nurture literacy—which advances overall language ability—by maintaining a daily homework routine and making use of “captive reading.” (See Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine, Part 1 and Part 2, and What Is Captive Reading and How Will It Help My Bilingual Child?)
11. Find or create monolingual settings and situations to encourage active use of the target language.
12. Make your children’s experience of the minority language playful and fun. (See Be Very Serious. Be Very Playful. The Bilingual Journey Demands Both. and VIDEO: Adam Beck Goes Bonkers in Interview, Reveals “Crazy Secret” for Bilingual Success.)
13. Promote a positive attitude toward the minority language and bilingual ability. (See Getting a Bilingual Child to Feel the Value of the Minority Language and A Powerful Way to Inspire a Positive Attitude in Your Bilingual Child.)
14. Make an ongoing effort to broaden your knowledge of raising bilingual children and the resources available in your target language by reading books, blogs, and forums, and listening to podcasts. (Two podcasts I highly recommend are by Olena Centeno at Bilingual Kids Rock and by Marianna Du Bosq at Bilingual Avenue.)
15. Connect with like-minded parents for ideas and inspiration, whether in person or online. (See the forum I created for “keepers” of bilingual kids, called The Bilingual Zoo. It’s a warm, lively community, with hundreds of parents from around the world, and you’d be welcome to join us.)
16. Write about your bilingual journey regularly, in one form or another. (See Do This One Simple Thing and I Guarantee You Greater Success On Your Bilingual Journey and Why Keeping a Journal on Your Kids is So Valuable.)
17. Remember the bigger picture: The language ability you nurture in your children not only will impact their lives, it will potentially impact their children’s lives, too, as well as more descendants down the line and all the people they come into contact with, the world over, for generations. (See Your Efforts Today Have a Profound Impact on Tomorrow.)
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