NOTE: This post was made in January 2016 but the principles below are continuously relevant for raising bilingual children, no matter the month or year.
This year, I thought I would simply compile a list of important resolutions for practically any parent intent on making proactive efforts in 2016 (and beyond) 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.