Acquiring proficiency in a new language is not a matter of chance; it requires purposeful effort. While it may not be as complex as rocket science, teaching young children multiple languages necessitates meticulous planning. The pertinent questions we aim to address here are: how to select the most effective language learning strategy for nurturing bilingual children, and which methods are most suitable for your family? In this article, we will delve into four distinct language strategies, explore their merits and limitations, and provide valuable advice for each approach, helping you determine the best fit for your children’s language development.
Strategy 1: One Parent, One Language (OPOL)
One Parent, One Language (OPOL) is one of the most popular language strategies adopted by parents attempting to raise simultaneous bilingual children. With the OPOL approach, one parent consistently speaks one language to the child, and another parent always speaks the other language.
For instance, the child’s mother might only speak to her child in English, while the father might use only Spanish exclusively.
This would work well for families where each parent speaks a different language fluently, or where just one of the parents speaks a second language fluently.
So, the challenging question here is: in what language should I and my partner speak to my kids? The answer is that the language should be your mother tongue or the language that you speak fluently. Teaching your strongest language to your kids would help you transfer the language much easier, and your kids could also learn the best language skills from you.
- Your child will have plenty of exposure to both target languages that you want to speak at the same time.
- By starting to teach them a second language from birth with the OPOL method, it will reduce the confusion or prevent them from refusing to speak a minority language, which is not their primary language.
- Your kids might find it hard to have a conversation with both parents at once unless you and/or your partner can understand and speak the other’s language.
- You or your partner do not always have time to speak and teach your child. For example, you decide to consistently speak Spanish to your kid, and your husband will speak English. You take care of and spend almost 24/7 with your kids at home. While your husband has a full-time job and is not often at home to play with your kid, If you adopt OPOL consistently, your kids might acquire Spanish more than English.
These cons that I have mentioned above could lead to the fact that kids will naturally start to pay less attention to the less-used language, which means they might have less conversation and connection with their father. In order to improve this situation, you can always flexibly use one or more of the methods below to find other ways to expose your child to that language or create a need for them to use it.
Strategy 2: Minority Language At Home (MLAH)
With the MLAH method, everyone in the family speaks the minority language at home, and the majority of community language can be used outside of the home, such as in daycare and school.
This is common with families that have migrated to another country, or both parents can speak the at-home language. As a family language system, it is also a highly effective and fail-safe method. This method has high success rates in studies.
- Your child can learn and speak the family language at a fast pace due to the fact that that language just surrounds him or her.
- There is less confusion for kids about when, where, and which language they should use to speak.
- Parents deciding to speak the minority language just at home but not in public might lead the kids to feel that this language is not good to speak in public. It might affect the child’s identification with the minority language.
- The child may not catch up with his monolingual peers in the majority language. They might feel nervous and face a difficult time due to their limited knowledge of the language they have to be surrounded by all day.
The MLAH is one of the most useful and effective methods to teach languages to your kids. However, all language strategies have their obvious advantages and disadvantages that we, as parents, should clearly understand in others to have some solutions to address the problem.
To avoid your children having negative feelings about speaking the family language in public, the parents should not only pass on their language but also their pride in their language and culture.
Create more fun activities related to your country, language, unique culture, and much more, so your curious kids can play, have fun, and engage to learn your home language effectively. By doing this, a stronger connection and relationship are built between you and your children, not just a language. And the child will not regard the home language as second-rate.
Nevertheless, it is important to find nanny’s playdates or other types of communities where the child can be immersed in the community language so that your child catches up faster with his monolingual peers in the majority language and has a smoother start in school.
Strategy 3: Time and Place (T&P)
The Time and Place (T&P) language strategy means that the parents separate and choose the certain languages used with the child either by time or by place (or both).
Examples of T&P strategy based on the TIME factors:
- Use only one language in the morning, and another language in the evening
- Divide the languages into two groups: weekdays and weekends
- Speak one language on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the rest of the week is for another language (one day, one language)
- Use different languages during alternating weeks or months
Examples of T&P strategy based on PLACE factors:
- Speak one language at home and another in the kitchen or at every mealtime with family.
- Speak one language at home and another at school or the playground.
- Speak one language in general and another language in a private place in the house that is designated for that specific language.
- You can create a schedule to speak a certain language at a time and place that you feel comfortable and convenient.
- Switching between two languages in different periods of time and places can help your kids practice more and show their confidence in using many languages.
- Using this language method teaches youngsters where and when to speak each language by setting a specific schedule.
Cons and Solutions
- One language may have a limited amount of exposure. When deciding when and where to use each language, parents should be cautious and thorough. This will help to lessen the limited exposure to one language.
- Parents need to be very consistent with the schedule that they have planned so that their kids won’t be confused.
- School-aged youngsters find it difficult to conform to a strict routine.
Strategy 4: Natural Mixing Languages Method
So, what is the Natural Mixing Languages Strategy? It means that the parents speak to their kids a lot in both languages without making any plans or schedules before.
This method is for families that do not want to follow a very strict schedule or simply because their kids don’t like those strategies. You can consider Natural Mixing Languages as a great method to apply and help your kids be exposed the languages naturally.
The most important thing here is the ways you enrich language experiences through playing music, reading books, having fun conversations, and exploring new things about the culture, people, and country. The more practice and exposure the children receive, the faster they will catch on.
- It all comes naturally, without any plan or timetable
- Less stress and nervousness for you as well as your kids.
- This is a simple method for a family where one of the parents is overworked and has little time to stay and teach the child. For example, if the father is extremely busy, the mother can still use this strategy to teach the children multiple languages.
- Children may prefer one language over the other, and as a result, one language may become their native language while the other languishes.
Keep in mind that exposure and need are the two main keys to the journey of teaching new languages to bilingual or multilingual children. When applying Natural Mixing Languages right from the start, your kids might prefer to speak one language (it may be the majority language) over the minority language.
During the time you talk to them, if you feel that one language has less exposure than another or your kids keep speaking in just one language that they feel more familiar with than another, this is the time you should increase the quality of your input to your kids by finding more situations where you can speak the minority language to them.
Here are some activities you can do with your kids.
- Video calls to grandparents or relatives
- Watch videos in your minority language and talk about it afterward
- Play a board game that uses your minority language
- Learn a new song and read a new book in your minority language
- Using Bilingual Educational Resources to teach and play with your kids
- Make some fun language games and activities for youngsters to enjoy while learning two or more languages at the same time.
The key here is that you do all those activities TOGETHER with your kids. Talk and discuss what you are doing with them, listen to their feelings, and encourage them to express their thoughts in the target language. These are the best ways to engage them with the minority language. When they feel relaxed and excited, they will acquire the languages faster.
It is a fact that no single method or strategy has been considered the best for raising bilingual children. As I mentioned in the article, every strategy has its obvious advantages and disadvantages that we should take into serious consideration before choosing which one suits your family and supports the bilingual language development of your children.
Raising bilingual children is a long-term job that requires a lot of time, effort, and patience to make sure that your children get adequate exposure to both languages to become bilingual successfully.
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We understand that raising a bilingual child is not easy and we are here to support you and your children. Share with us which strategies do you use to raise your bilingual/multilingual kids?
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