The ABCs of Multilingual Parenting: The Letter J

by Corey · 1 comment

J is for … Just Do It!

The water is warm so jump in and go for a multilingual swim! You’ll never know what it is like if you don’t give it a try!

The key is to not worry so much right now about the right or wrong ways to raise children multilingually. The truth is, there are no absolute rights or wrongs that apply to each and every family. There are things to watch out for along the way, some pitfalls to avoid, and some tips that can make things easier, but even those will have to be judged against you and your family’s unique needs. So, just get going with it; you can work through the details down the road.

If your children aren’t yet speaking (or better yet, your child is still in the womb) then start using your language as much as you can right now! Now is when you should be getting used to it – before your child is born. This will make things so much easier. Sometimes the little things are what we need to face (for example, your spouse hearing you speak your language all the time).

What if your children are already speaking? You are ready to “just do it!” but have no idea where to jump in? Here are some suggestions:

  • Start with one hour of language exposure a day:Jumping in doesn’t have to mean changing your whole entire life! Just change one hour a day of it and you will be amazed with how far you get. It’s taking that first step that feels uncomfortable.
  • Go cold turkey: If you aren’t the “one hour a day” type of person, then just switch over to your language completely but do it with awareness! As you don’t want to freak out your family (your children, in particular) then prepare your family for the language change by explaining to them what is to come.
    Be willing to be flexible. If your kids are having a great time with your switch to another language, then fantastic! If they are showing signs of frustration and even hurt, then you should consider taking things a little more slowly. Talk with them a lot about why you are doing what you are doing. And definitely don’t expect your children to speak your language – at least not right away!
  • Use materials that feel comfortable to you: You like to read books out loud with your children? Then start with that. You want to do a language learning program with your child because it has structure and rhythm? Then do that. The point is that you figure out what will feel most comfortable in this first transition. You can always add more later.
  • Ignore the rules: One family says that you must do it with the One-Person-One-Language (OPOL) language method? Another says that you have to always speak your language no matter what? Ignore all of this for now and just get started. Later you can fine-tune things to best suit you and your family. No one else knows your family as well as you do!
  • Create the habit: The most important step to is to start creating habits. It is like anything else in your life that has become a habit. Do you brush your teeth before bed? That is a habit. Do you take off your shoes when you come into the house? Another habit. Bit-by-bit you will make speaking your language with your children just another habit that is part of your daily life. It is getting there that will take some conscious effort.

These are just a few tips for how to jump in and do it. The most important is that you are taking that first step. This is the hardest part but it will be the most rewarding. I promise!

We are going through the alphabet one letter at a time, multilingual-style! Join in the fun and add your own ideas, suggestions and tips in the comments below that begin with today’s letter! Check out all of the ABC’s of Multilingual Parenting posts so far!

Corey Heller is the founder of Multilingual Living and the Editor-In-Chief/Publisher of Multilingual Living Magazine. Multilingual Living is the place where she shares her knowledge about raising multilingual and multicultural children. Corey, an American, and her German husband live in Seattle where they raise and homeschool their three children, ages 14, 12 and 10, in German and English.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Antonia April 25, 2011 at 10:55 am

J is for jeopardy.
So many things are putting in jeopardy my attempts to keep our children bilingual.
The biggest one is my partner and his inability (why exactly he can’t/ won’t, I still don’t understand!) to speak his native language to our girls. Strangely enough his name begins with…J!
I’m off to sneak a cassette deck into the bathroom so I can blast them with Spanish story tapes while they are in the bath!


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