How to raise a bilingual child
What strategies are there for raising a bilingual child?
I grew up bilingual, and so did my 18-month-old son. My son and I both have a Danish father and an Austrian mother. Here's what I've learned from my own life as a child and parent, and from others:
Start immediately. It is not enough to decide about it after a year or more. It has to be from the beginning, because children learn before they are born and most of them under 10 months. You have to learn the "tune" and sounds of the language, and that only works early.
You must be a native speaker or be equivalent. I've seen Austrian homes where one parent speaks poor English to teach the language. Does not work It is not enough to teach single words from picture books. It is not enough to speak what you learned in school. You need to know all the words you will ever need and you only know that if you are a native speaker or if you are immensely good at English as a foreign language. Don't even get me started with pronunciation and grammar!
Be consistent. I speak Danish with my son 99% of the time. I would say less than 90% and it doesn't start out well. I speak German with him when he is with other children / people, when I have to understand them too. But I also speak Danish with other young children, mainly for fun, but also to show that it is not a secret language.
Show, don't tell. I speak Danish to my wife 80% of the time. There are things that I can say to her more easily in German, but most of the time my son hears me speak this language to others. It's not just for him. My side of the family also speaks Danish, my wife's side German. Fortunately, we all get along.
Act normal. Speaking any language is normal. Don't act particularly if you speak a certain language. There should be no difference in the way you act in relation to the language you speak. They are both just one language.
Books and stuff. That's actually the hard part! It can be difficult to find enough material / books / toys in the foreign language of the current country. In my case we are surrounded by German stuff, but it's an effort to secure enough Danish material to keep the balance. There is media here in particular - television, DVDs, computers. Planning ahead is the best advice I can give on this point.
English is the third. In our case, we are not in an English-speaking country. The third (and fourth, etc.) language is easier for the child when the two main languages are firmly established first. So don't worry about the third language in the beginning unless you are are located in an English speaking country. In this case it should of course be interfered with.
That's it from above. I could edit and add more later.
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