I am from Barcelona and my husband from the USA, we live in California and speak in English between the two of us. But I have always known I wanted my kids to speak Spanish fluently too!
Here are MY top tips for raising bilingual kids, myths and facts.
1. One person, one language: Each parent has to pick a language and stick to it! Consistency is key.
2. Start speaking both languages from the day they are born. Not only it'll be easier for the parent to get used to if done from the start, but newborn babies have the capability of distinguishing between languages. Each language uses only about 40 language sounds which distinguish one language from another. And birth, the baby brain has an unusual gift: it can tell the difference between all 800 sounds. This means that at this stage infants can learn ANY language that they're exposed to.
2. Add books, music, TV shows, games, app games, flash cards... in both languages, so each parent can also stick to their language when playing, making it fun too!
3. Have kid friends that speak the non-dominant language, in my case it's Spanish, since we live in an English speaking country.
4. Try to find a bilingual / immersion school, or an after-school program. If your kids are still young / are looking for extra help, get a nanny who is fluent in the non-dominant language too.
5. Don't get discouraged or give up if your kid picks up one of the two languages more than the other, or if he/she mixes both languages in sentences, it takes time for them to fully separate them both. Mixing is always temporarily as long as each parent is consistent and persistent.
6. Forget the myths
- Speaking two languages wont confuse the kid: they are incredibly sensitive to the different ways people speak, and mixing words is just a normal part of bilingual development)
- He/she wont have long-term speech disorders: bilingualism should never be blamed for a speech problem, if an issue exists, it will appear in both languages and it won't be a bilingual learning cause,
- There won't be speech delays: A bilingual toddler may mix words and although it may be harder for others to understand the child’s meaning, this does not signal that he is delayed. By 2 years old their vocabulary will consist of about 50 words, if a child is bilingual these 50 words will include words from both languages. This does not mean he/she is delayed, just a normal part of the bilingual development too.
- Bilingual kids do not have more academic problems: sure, they may do more grammar mistakes, but it'll also aid in problem-solving skills, multitasking abilities and cognitive flexibility!
7. It takes time, consistency and effort. Trust me, its HARD to stick to it when my husband and I are together with them, since I am constantly speaking English, but it's worth it at the end, so I keep correcting myself.
8. Anyone can be bilingual! No child is more linguistically gifted to learn two languages: immersion and consistency is key, all kids are born ready to learn multiple methods of communication, it's just a matter of implementing it into your lifestyle.
9. It's never too late to raise your child bilingual! Yes, it's easier if you do it from the start (experts say from birth to 3 years is the optimal time since their mind is open and flexible), but learning a second language between 4 and 7 is also easy since they can still process multiple language on parallel paths and will be able to speak like a native. But if your child is over 7, it's not too late either, I learned English fluently after 10 years old, and here I am, running an English based business in the USA.
It definitely is not easy, it's harder (for me) than I thought it would be, but I know it will be worth it! Being bilingual will help them be more successful, diverse, compassionate and open-minded, and they will thank you later!