How do we raise a child that we want to learn multiple languages. What expectations should we have?

More and more children are growing up learning two or even three languages. There are several methods of growing them this way, but it is very likely that they will not do equally well in all languages.

At a bilingual exam PHOTO Alina Mitran

We meet more and more mixed families in Europe, and in many of them the father speaks one language, the mother another language and they understand each other in a third language, mostly English. There are even more cases where the parents understand in one of the languages, but it is easier for everyone to use the mother tongue, so in the relationship with the children everyone speaks the language with which they feel more comfortable.

There are also many families who emigrated to other countries and speak their mother tongue at home, and the rest the language of the country where they settled. There are also cases where in a country there are several communities that speak different languages ​​in the family than the official language.

More methods

How do we educate our children in these situations is a natural question. In practice there are several methods practiced by parents, without having even studied this issue. One method is “one person, one language”, where each of the parents speaks in his native language to the little ones, a situation very common in mixed couples.

Another option is for the parents to use one language at home, and for the children to use another language at kindergarten, school and in the circle of friends, as happens most often in the case of emigrants. More and more often, parents want to teach their children a foreign language from an early age, so that they can learn a second one at school.

In the latter situation, another method is quite often used, in which the language used depends on the context, i.e. at the table we use one language, at play another, for example. Brașov psychologist Maria Teherciu presents some of the advantages of the methods.

It's good if there are more options when it comes to raising bilingual children, each one adaptable to each individual family. The first is for one parent to speak one language and the other parent to speak another language with the child. This strategy is especially suitable for couples consisting of two adults of different nationalities. In this case, it also matters what language the parents speak to each other and what language the child learns outside the family. When the parents speak two different languages ​​at home, and the child speaks another language at kindergarten and school, he grows up trilingual“, explained Maria Teherciu.

Next, the psychologist presented some of the situations encountered in practice.

The second option would be for both parents to speak one language in the home and for the child to learn the second language outside the family. Most of the time, this is the situation of families belonging to minorities. A third option involves both parents speaking two languages ​​with the child, alternating between them. The child will learn to speak in both languages, often switching from one to the other when he knows he is talking to other bilingual people, but being able to express himself in only one language when the interlocutor is monolingual. Another option would be preferred by minority families who want to ensure that the mother tongue is not lost by the child. They choose to speak with the child exclusively in the mother tongue for the first years of life, after which the child learns the official language at kindergarten and school“, presented Maria Teherciu.

What we need to know when raising a bilingual child

According to the psychologist, it is important to make sure, as a parent, that the little one is sufficiently exposed to both languages. Let's think that the more words a child hears in both languages, the larger his vocabulary will be for each of them. Often, when the family speaks a minority language, the attempt to raise a bilingual child can fail, if the parents do not consider the child's sufficient exposure to the mother tongue.

Specialists say that for a child to grow up bilingual, it is necessary that the non-dominant language (the one spoken only at home, for example) occupies at least 30% of the communication with the child. When the child already speaks the majority language at school and with friends, it is important for parents to encourage the minority language at home if they want to help the child retain language skills.

Variety is also important for encouraging a child's bilingualism. When the little one frequently interacts with several people, of different ages and from different social backgrounds, who speak both languages, he will have the opportunity to practice both and be exposed to various language experiences.

Each bilingual child will learn to speak at his own pace, depending on exposure to the two languages, his and his parents' personality, and a host of other social factors.

The most important aspect of raising a bilingual child is to give them a positive experience when they communicate in whatever language they use. Avoid overcorrecting or making the child repeat a sentence or phrase several times. Remember that language learning is a natural process and your child will be able to learn both languages. You need to be patient and not turn communication into a stressful situation for the child.

Not all languages ​​will be spoken equally well

The recommendation regarding the realistic attitude refers to the fact that bilingual children rarely become equally fluent in both languages. Many parents expect a bilingual child to know both languages ​​at the level of a monolingual native speaker. Most of the time, this will not be possible, because each language used by the child will serve a different context and purpose.

Thus, your child may be fluent in the mother tongue in some areas and fluent in the second language in other areas (for example, professional). It is also good to know that the child's skills in both languages ​​can be easily improved, depending on the context in which he is. Often, passive bilingual children (who understand a second language but do not speak it) become active bilinguals (begin to speak the second language) if they spend time in a place or among people who only speak the second language.

Do not compare the bilingual child with a monolingual child in terms of language development. Bilingual children may not have the same vocabulary in a given language as a monolingual child. It is normal for bilingual children to seem to lag behind a monolingual child in certain areas. For example, a bilingual child may have a rich scientific vocabulary in one language, but a poorer religious vocabulary in that language. Also, the rate at which each language is learned will be slower than the rate at which a monolingual child learns to speak“, said the brasovian pishologist.

Many bilingual children will grow up to speak two foreign languages, but at different levels. This does not mean that the attempt to raise a bilingual child has failed, but is simply the result of the child adapting to the demands of his life. Most of the time, children need to communicate more in one language than in the other, according to psychologist Maria Teherciu.