When it comes to raising children multilingually, there are actually very few absolute rules for how to go about it. However, there is one element that is key: time! Unless your children are exposed to the language(s) a lot, they are not going to have a chance to become multilingual.
Time can be hard to come by for multilingual parents. Children are in school much of the day. Maybe both you and your spouse work outside the home and arrive home tired and exhausted in the evening. When is there time to focus on exposing your children to your language(s)? Just getting dinner on the table is struggle enough!
The hard-core answer is this: you have to make time. Time for your children’s language learning will not come falling in your lap. It will only arrive when you push other things aside and make it a priority – a high priority.
The good news is that it is easier to provide our children with needed language exposure than we think! Children pick up languages when they are exposed to them consistently over time. The tenth time your child hears you say, “Come on! We are late!” in your language, while running out the door with a stressed look on your face, your child will understand every word that you are saying. It is that consistent sentence repetition (especially when combined with clear actions) that teaches our children our language(s). If the time isn’t made for that daily language exposure to happen, then how can enough consistent repetition happen? It won’t!
The good news is that your child’s language exposure doesn’t have to take place in long chunks of time and does not need to consist of sitting at a table learning declensions. Your children pick up language from the bits of exposure that takes place throughout the day. In fact, these bits are the most normal way for language learning to happen.
For tips on how to expose your child to language in short increments, read Franck & Cristina’s 10-minutes-at-a-time posts: Helping Children Learn a New Language: 10 Minutes at a Time is a general post about this and Technology to Help Children Learn a New Language: 10 Minutes at a Time is focused specifically on how technology can help in this process. These posts will give you an excellent idea for how to use every minute available with your children for language exposure – even when you are busy talking to your mother-in-law on the phone!
It is important to remember that a little bit of language exposure is better than none! If your child doesn’t have the opportunity to benefit from extended exposure to your language, don’t throw in the towel! Your child will pick up more than you think, even from the minute bits and pieces you have the time to share. And down the road, when your child is older, he/she will actually have an easier time picking up languages due to the little bit of exposure you provided.
Remember that “finding” time for language learning is less about searching and more about carving: using our knife to cut out things in our day that simply aren’t necessary. Can you cut back on Facebook and Twitter time? Maybe you can exchange a TV show in the community language that you and your family watch together for a show in your language that you watch together (check out our Language Challenge 180 Language Pages for tips)? What about reading a book out loud to your children every single night, no matter what? So what if it is the same three books! Find fun YouTube videos for your children to watch while you are cleaning up the dishes after dinner.
Whatever it takes to find more time to expose your child to language(s), the better! It is definitely worth every minute!
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!