We are monolingual parents raising a trilingual and triliterate child in Spanish, Mandarin and English as we travel the world. Science shows that children actually begin to learn language while still in the womb, so that is when we began. Doing it has taught us a LOT as my ideas before pregnancy or even when she was a baby or toddler, changed as she aged and we all went through many different phases.
Many people ( even native speaking bilingual parents) fail at raising a bilingual child, so we are very proud of how fluent and literate she is at 12 in all of her languages. Interestingly, my advice on raising a reader, also applies to raising a multilingual child: support them in reading and writing in ALL of their languages.
I didn't realize what a long commitment this was when I first thought of this idea or when we attempted it when she was a baby. Most people thought we were crazy and most thought we would fail. I didn't know if we would make it, but thought it was worth a try.
I didn't know that it is normal to have periods where the child has resistance to speaking the language,( if it is not the dominant one), starting around age four as they become more verbal. I had no idea how long it takes ( similar to her violin and piano) ....YEARS of daily practice, to get really fluent. I didn't realize the added challenges of doing all of this on the move.
Yes, it IS easier learning as a kid when their brains are wired for learning languages, but it won't happen unless one is consistent for many years. Three languages and two instruments, were MUCH more to take on than I had realized ( especially for non-musical, monoglot parents), and I had my doubts at many a moment, BUT absolutely worth it.
Even today, at 12, she spends time every day reading, writing and speaking in all three languages and even dreams trilingually. We are back to homeschooling now, ( taking a break from our Chinese school and doing private tutoring at our home daily) so this gives us more time and freedom...BUT we still keep a strong focus on our homeschool priorities...math, languages, music, science ( not to mention love, fun and healing).
All the studies demonstrate that a young child picks
up a foreign language more easily than at any other point in their life, but that doesn't mean it doesn't take a continued effort and due diligence on the parents part. Kids can lose languages as quickly as they pick them up, even their native tongues, so long term consistency is vital.
Science shows that children need exposure to
a different language about one third of their waking hours to become
actively bilingual. They may understand some with less time, but will be more receptive and not really speak it. I've seen this repeatedly.
Just because you are a traveler or expat or a parent who is fluent in another language or have grandparents that don't even speak the dominant language is absolutely no guarantee that you can raise a fluently bilingual or multilingual child. I have seen waaaay too many people in those categories who failed. ALL are great advantages for sure, and even a tiny bit of language is better than none, but sadly, few reap these benefits of growing up fluently bilingual because they don't make a focused, long term effort.
TOP TIPS FOR BILINGUAL BABY SUCCESS
The key is starting young ( preferably at birth or during pregnancy), making it a daily priority like one teaches a child to brush their teeth and looking for every possible opportunity to create immersion (even in the home) in the minority languge or languages. There truly are amazing opportunities EVERY WHERE, but it is up to the parents to keep the bilingual baby ( or trilingual, multilingual) on track for the long term. Life has a way of getting busy when you have a child, but daily good habits and setting priorities over the long haul creates success.
"One free lunch in the world is to learn another language in early childhood." Pinker ( MIT Linguist)
"The cognitive benefits of bilingualism have been well documented, but new research shows that it also has a positive impact on working memory, which aids math and reading comprehension." Pamela Stitt
"The more children learn
about a foreign language, the more they understand about their own
language." Nancy Rhodes
What do you think about growing up bilingual or trilingual or more? Is it worth it?
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