Are you a non-native speaker, contemplating (if not already) raising your child bilingual, wondering what it takes? A lot of non-natives hesitate, myself included at the time. With hindsight the rearing of your child bilingual as a non-native is not that different from natives. Here are in a nutshell, what it takes non-native parents when it comes to their personal language learning on their family’s bilingual journey:
Only consistency pays off! No language was learned at a quasi-native level in a couple of months, and even less so when not living in the country! As far as I am concerned, it’s been nearly 30 years and I still catch myself making a mistake or discovering new words and idioms.
Commit yourself to continually improving your minority language; it’s acquisition is a lifelong process, even for natives. We always discover a new word, idiom, a correct spelling or pronunciation to something you had done wrong for years in your mother-tongue! Well the same applies to the minority language.
Also commit to use the minority language with your child. It is valuable practice for both of you, and every time you will fail to use the minority language you will waste the opportunity to better yourself, besides sending the subliminal message to your child that using the minority language is not important. Children need consistency to learn too!
2. Live the language
Most people see language learning through the prism of academics. Though the theory is undeniably important, experiencing the language in your daily life is just paramount. That is why some people travel far and wide to immerse themselves a few months or even years in their target language.
And did you know, that some languages (no less than 3116 according to the reference website ethnologue.com) are actually learned through speaking, as they are unwritten? Thinking about it, before schooling existed (think medieval ages and before), people learned their language through speaking only! In fact, any baby -whether monolingual or bilingual- does just that!
This is why, if you want to raise bilingual as a non-native parent, it is vital for you and your children that your minority language completely becomes part of your daily life. Not just book reading, but talking together, doing your routines (cooking, eating, bathing, brushing of teeth, etc…), listening to minority language media; in short leading your whole home life in the minority language. Bettering your minority language for the purposes of raising your child bilingual cannot be a hobby.
3. Strive for the best
Like many parents, you probably want them to get the highest education quality. Given you probably are their only minority language input and you put them in this bilingual adventure in the first place, you owe them the best. Strive for it! There is more at stake than your own personal knowledge of the minority language: a bright bilingual future for your child. It will also set your child with the positive example of always making the utmost effort.
4. Be curious
It is curiosity that gets kids to try things and learn. Think of them putting things to their mouth as babies to discover their world. Think of their first steps or them playing a shape sorter game, trying and testing which item fits each hole. Well do the same with you minority language: unsure about a word you used? Check it out! Heard a new idiom? Look it up! Wondering why something is said in such a way in your minority language? Google it! Wondering how not to repeat yourself? Use a synonyms dictionary to expand your vocabulary; learn a new word or idiom a day. To develop your minority language, do not limit yourself to your comfort zone: challenge yourself.
5. Make learning enjoyable and fun
Learning does not have to be dull and academic. You can learn so much from just reading fun articles or comics, listening to podcasts you enjoy, joining a Whatsapp language group where people will help and support you in a very pragmatic and lighter way than a dry text book. You can also learn through playing and interacting with your kids. The fact that you spend time with them implies the use of the minority language, it is hence excellent practice for everybody whilst having fun and quality time together.
6. Make mistakes
You don’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, do you? Well making mistakes is part of learning; so go for it! Yes, your kids will copy your mistakes, especially since you will be their only source of minority language input. Nevertheless, these mistakes can be corrected over time, even if you discover them afterwards. After all, we all make mistakes -even in our mother-tongue- and discover some as an adult! And is it not better to be bilingual with a few imperfections, than not speaking the language at all? Imperfections can easily be corrected, whilst language learning once an adult is a lot more difficult.
If you are after practical ideas to put these tips into practice, and above all inspiration to raise your child bilingual in a language that is not yours, you might want to have a look at these 5 posts specifically written for non-native parents:
- Non-native parents – 20 tips to improve your minority language
- Non-native parent rearing in the minority language – 7 tips to strengthen your ml skills
- Food for thought for non-native parents: speaking the minority language is better than not speaking it at all
- The unsuspected benefits of reading aloud to practice the minority language pronunciation
- Non-native parents: 15 reasons why you should take pride in rearing your child bilingual
Raising a child bilingual as a non-native parent is absolutely feasible, and even more successful if you follow these tips. There are many parents out there who chose this path, and they are doing brilliantly at it. But for sure, their success firstly comes down to one thing: 24/7 commitment.
Amy is a French mum of two living in Paris. She works in insurance broking and has 2 blogs about raising bilingual children – Our ml Home in English, and Notre Maison Bilingue in French. You can also follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.