Raising a Multilingual Child – How to Do it Right in a Multilingual Family

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Raising a multilingual child in a home where parents speak multiple languages – is it difficult?

Will it cause confusion? Can it lead to speech delays?

How many languages can you teach a baby?

This article basically tries to find answer to all the doubts regarding the raising of child in a multilingual family.

This article is basically life at home with my little polyglot!! 🙂

raising a multilingual child

My husband and I are from different states. We are different and yet alike. So in 2011, when I married my best friend, I didn’t think that there was anything I had to worry about. Sure, the language was different and so were some of the customs followed. But I was able to glide through. The fact that we spoke in English and Hindi erased the language barrier between us.

All was well. Till 2013.

That was when my little bundle of joy was born. Then came the biggest question. Or rather, a lot of them.

In which language should I talk to my child?

Would it be too much if I introduce her to more than one language, early on?

Should I ask my husband to learn my language or should I learn his, to make conversation easy at home, for the kid especially?

I asked around, I read articles, spoke to doctors and finally decided on the solution.

If you are a mom/ dad, who is in the same boat, I am sure, you would want to know about what the solution is. Right?

If yes, then read on, to know about how I raise my child in a multilingual home.

Top 6 Myths I came across about raising a multilingual child (and how I debunked it with my experience)

Kids learn different languages either because their parents speak different languages or because they stay in a place where the language is different from theirs. Whatever the reason, learning more than one language can be good, if done the right way.

But there are some many myths about teaching kids different languages!

Parents end up getting confused hearing this and wonder if it is worth the trouble or if they are setting their kid up for failure.

Let us take a look at some of the common myths I have heard so far.

#1. Kids who are exposed to more than one language will have delays in their speech

Most parents want their kids to be at par or advanced than their peers. So any delay in achieving milestones can be looked upon as a disadvantage.

I was a bit concerned when my LO took a while to start talking. But then I realized that I had to look beyond the words. She wasn’t talking complete sentences, but she had started responding to questions in different languages! It was a nod, shrug or an emphatic shake of the head, but she was able to respond. So I chose to shrug the delay and wait for while. Let me say, the wait paid off.

#2. Multilingual kids are confused about the language

“Our child is going to be super confused”, mused my hubby, when he found out that I had conceived. We laughed about it. But then people started warning me against exposing our child to various languages. The child would be confused, they said!

Now I know, my LO certainly is confused, but about which language she loves more.

The fact is that there is no confusion, if you follow certain steps. I will tell you about that too, but in a while.

But that being said, confusion can arise if you are dealing with more than four languages.

#3. They can never master any of the languages they speak, properly.

I have to admit that the language my child speaks, is a khichdi of various languages. Am I worried about it? No. The fact is, she is still learning. And I feel, it is more of a convenience issue than anything else.

Kids may find it tough to pronounce certain words, so they may choose to use an alternative word in any of the languages they know. Rather than look at it as a setback, think of it as a learning experience.

There have been times when I have started talking to my grandma in my mother tongue and ended up speaking in a mix of English and Hindi. I would realize my folly, only after seeing the puzzled look on her face. Is it because, I didn’t know my mother tongue? No, in this case, I was just talking the way I speak at home, with my husband.

#4.Focussing on one language will ensure that they can grasp things better

This is similar to the second point. They say, kids in multilingual families are confused about languages and are trying to figure out how to communicate. Such kids will be so focused on this aspect that it starts affecting other aspects of their life.

If only, I could find the person who started this myth!

The truth is that such kids end up being smarter!

My kid may not be a prodigy, but so far, we haven’t faced any difficulties.

So if someone tells you that you should stick to one language, to prevent your kid from lagging behind, do not listen to them!

#5.If you really want your child to learn multiple languages, it is better to wait till they are older

When did you learn to cycle?

I know the question is a bit off-topic but, humor me. Was it when you were a child, or was it when you were older? Most of you, would have learnt it as a child. Now, there would be some of you who did it once you got a bit older. But it would have been easier to do so as a kid.

Similarly learning a new language is easier at a younger age.

#6. In a multilingual household, the child should converse only in the mother’s language.

NO!

In cases where the kids spend the majority of their time with the mother, it is natural for them to pick up that language. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t learn the other language.

#7. Learning a new language is cakewalk for kids

Sure, they learn fast, but learning a new language is not that easy as you may want to believe. Like everything else, it takes effort and patience. In other words, just because the parents speak different languages doesn’t mean that the kid will automatically pick up both the languages.

It depends on how much you speak to the kid and take an effort in teaching the kid that particular language.

So those are the myths, I learned not to take seriously.

 

Tips you can follow to help raising a multilingual kid

My husband and I chose to teach our kid both our languages. This way she could communicate to both our families and enjoy the abundant treasure of tales and rhymes that her grandmas knew. In simple terms- it would help her connect better.

But the scary myths got me wondering, was it worth it? Wouldn’t it be a burden for my child?

So for that, I decided to tackle the myths first. You have heard the myths and my take on it. Now that it is out of the way, let us move to the next thing that gets parents worried.

How do I teach him/her the different languages?

As I said before, it is not easy. But we can make it easy for kids if we follow these tips. So why don’t we start:

#1. Understanding between the parents

While most parents want kids to learn both their languages, if they don’t speak the same language, there are times when it doesn’t happen. In this situation, sneaking around and teaching them isn’t the answer. Learning both the languages can help the kids understand more about both the parents’. But if your partner isn’t open to the idea of you teaching your child your language, then you can choose a language that is comfortable for the both of you.

#2. It’s your choice

Whether or not the child should be multilingual should be decided by the parents and parents alone. Go by the theory that parents know their child the best.

#3.Start early

If you are planning to raising a multilingual child ,the earlier you start, the better it is for the child. It will help make it easier for the child. Kids will be able to pick it up later too. But it will be easier if you start early on.

#4. Teach new words in different languages simultaneously

When you are teaching your kid a new word, you can do so in all the languages a child is learning.

For e.g.: if you are teaching your kid about rainbows, and you want your child to learn Marathi and Telugu, teach him how to say rainbow in both the languages. This will help him/her build up the vocabulary simultaneously. Remember not to burden them with too much information though.

#5. A little encouragement goes a long way

Encourage your child when they start expressing themselves. Making fun of them, if they mispronounce of mix up words won’t help. This will take away their confidence and they will not want to speak.

#6. Mixing is ok

Let them mix! We do it too, hain na? All you have to do is to just ensure that they are using the words that mean the same in the other language. So correcting them too much isn’t advisable.

#7. It is ok if their grasp of all languages aren’t the same
Do not expect your kids to be experts in all the languages. Multilingual children could favor one language more than the others. It could be due to exposure, frequency of usage etc. It is normal for kids to show different levels of expertise in the language they know. Your kid could speak well in two languages but know to write only one.

#8. Use of the minority language at home

In case you stay in a place where your language is not spoken, you can make it a point to speak your language at home. This is because the kids will pick up the language of the place of residence from school, when they converse with their friends. In such cases, not speaking your own language at home will cause them to forget/not learn their own language.

A lot of grandparents whose children and families are settled abroad complain that their kids are unable to converse with them. The parents say that it is because the kids spend most of the time at school and they are comfortable in speaking in the language that their friends speak. In most cases, it is English, which the parents also know. So the parents also speak to the children in the language, which the kids favour.

#9. One parent one language

In many multilingual families parents follow this approach. This helps to make it easier for the kid to learn the language.

#10. Practice makes perfect

You have to talk to your kid and teach them about the language so that they learn the language. Keep practicing. You do not have to make it seem like a chore. Introducing songs, stories will make it interesting for the child and will help build his/her vocabulary. My child’s vocabulary improved by leaps and bounds after we started singing rhymes to her and telling her stories.

Read:

#11. Patience, patience and more patience

You cannot learn a language in a day. It takes a lot of practise and patience. If the child makes mistakes, do not lose heart. You have to understand that your child has to pick up more languages than other kids his/her age. So be patient and supportive.

Notes: If you feel that your child is not speaking or responding like kids his/her age, you can try sticking to one language. If you see no results, you can ask the child’s pediatrician to evaluate if there is an issue.

So moms, that’s my story on raising a multilingual child. Now why don’t you tell me yours?

Do you have a polyglot at home too? Is yours a multilingual household too? What were the concerns you faced while raising multilingual children? How did you overcome it?

I am all ears, so share your stories with me in the comments below.

Also don’t forget to ask questions, if you have any.

About Author

A stay at home mom for a feisty 19 month old named Ahaana, Chitra Santosh has rekindled her romance with words once again now. Though Arakkonam is her home, she can be seen migrating to Mavelikara, a quaint little town in Alappey during summers. Studies have shown that this has no connection with the migratory patterns of birds.

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