Part 1: Methods to raising bilingual children
When raising children bilingual the first step is to decide what you are trying to achieve. There are varying levels of bilingualism, and not every family is aiming for fully bilingual children who speak both languages perfectly. For example, I meet lots of families who want their children to learn enough to equip them with the foundaAons to pick up the heritage language, or indeed a new language at a later date. You need to decide how much Ame, effort and sanity you want to devote to this. Your goals should be realisAc, achievable and create a fun, stress- free experience for you and your children. Your bilingual journey is your own and you define it.
Once you have set your bilingual goals the next step is the how.
In this blog (part 1 &2 ) you will finds methods, hints, and Aps that I have picked up through years as a language teacher, bilingual speaker and foreign language student. I will share with you my experiences as a mum of two bilingual children, and the experiences of other bilingual parents I have met through running a bilingual playgroup.
The gold standard methods for fully bilingual children
If you are looking for fully bilingual children, then there are two recommended methods and it’s important to start these early:
The one parent, one language method: each parent speaks a different language at home,
The minority language at home method: the parents speak the heritage language at home and the children learn the naAve language at school.
If you are in posiAon to do this then great, however this method is not for everyone. You may not feel fully competent in the language yourself, life gets in the way, the children can oppose the language of the parent in favour for the language they hear at school, and it may not be sustainable for every family. If this sounds like you, then the parallel language method may be more suited to you.
My own bilingual experience fits perfectly into these two categories. I grew up in Athens to a Greek- speaking dad and an English-speaking mum. I aRended Greek school and had private English lessons. The perfect bilingual upbringing!
Another method that works for many and I wouldn’t like to leave outside is using Parallel languages.
This is the method where you mix the languages at home, although I am sure you’ve heard the myth that advises against it. There are plenty of families out there who speak a type of pidgin like Greeklish or Franglais, where the language is mixed at home, and it works for them. Children are smarter than we give them credit for and they will soon learn the correct context for each language. How much of the heritage language you expose them to will depend on your own goals. I have met families on the full breadth of the spectrum, from families who choose to expose them in equal measure while others pepper their speech with some nouns from the heritage language. Know what works for you and use it accordingly.
Expecta@on vs. Reality
When it came to raising my own kids bilingual, I was determined to recreate my own “perfect” bilingual upbringing, I would speak to my children exclusively in Greek and their father would speak to them exclusively in English. This was the Expecta@on...
The Reality. The reality is that this was really hard for my family. English was all around us and I was ready to give up.
I remember the day I told my mum I was giving up. That’s when she gave me the best advice that a language specialist will not give you.
“Our family is not the same as your new family” she said. She explained how at the Ame when she was raising us bilingual everyone had an opinion on her method: “You shouldn’t make them bilingual they will struggle at school”, “their speech will be delayed”, “you mustn’t mix the languages”. But she persevered with her method because it worked for her and her family. Today my brother and I are successfully bilingual in different ways to suit us and the people who told my mum that her way was wrong also raised successful bilingual adults.
Everyone’s bilingual journey is their own and unique to them so let’s be clear.
Your journey, your rules
The one thing I have learned from meeAng other parents who aRend my playgroups is that we all have different bilingual goals. Some of us want our children to be fully fluent in both languages. Others want conversaAonal proficiency enough to speak to a grandparent or visit home. One family I know are fully Greeklish – meaning that they mix Greek and English language at home and they are happy that they are keeping the language alive for their children. The first step is to decide what you are trying to achieve, and a]er that you are good to go.
In the next part of this blog I will share with you all my Aps for language learning, so stay tuned for more!
Elizabeth Levendeli is a language teacher and mum of two bilingual children. She is the founder of Greeklish Kids which is a Greek language club providing opportuniAes for Greek language learning throughplay and social interacAons. Greeklish Kids offers a range of services including todder and playgroups, private tutoring and summer camps.