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|In this section we post articles that cover subjects related to learning and teaching Italian
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10 Helpful Tips for Raising a Bilingual Child
Practical Advice to Help Parents Raise a Bilingual Child with Confidence and
If you are feeling anxious about raising your child to be bilingual or if you are not
sure about how to start and what you should be doing, these easy and proven
techniques will give you a road map and guide you along the way.
1 - Adopt a Positive Attitude
Being positive always helps, but in this case positive attitude means that the child
should see the fact of being bilingual as a positive one. Being bilingual should be
presented as an advantage, a convenience and a fun thing. The environment the
child lives in should, ideally, convey the same message: being bilingual is cool! If
this is not the case in the place where you live, create a circle of friends where
being bilingual is seen as a positive and useful thing.
2 - Set a Place for Each Language
There must be a place for each language. The place can be a real place or a
situation. School can be the place for one language and home the place for the
second language. Playdates can be the place where one language is spoken,
while shopping can be the situation that requires the use of the other language. It is
up to you to decide, but once you establish the rules, don't change them!
3 - Build Motivation
Motivation is necessary in many endeavors, but in this case the bilingual child
needs to be motivated to use the languages he is learning. Especially for the
weaker language (which is usually the language that is only spoken at home)
motivation needs to be strong. The child needs to feel that the weaker language is,
for example, his only way to communicate with his beloved grandparents, the only
language used to read books at bedtime, the language of fun cartoons and movies.
4 - Speak with Love
The use of each language must be associated with love and positive feelings. This
normally happens when a parent communicates in one language with the child,
even if that is not the language spoken outside the home. The special relationship
between parent and child ensures that the language acquires a special meaning to
the child and increases the chances of successful bilingualism.
5 - Be Firm about Separation
When the child is learning two (or more) languages, it is very helpful if those
languages are kept separated. This means that if each parent speaks a different
language, they will avoid using a word of one language while speaking another
language. It can be tempting at times, but mixing languages confuses the child and
doesn't help her build a good vocabulary in both languages.
6 - Offer Support
When there is a weaker language (usually the one that is only spoken at home with
one parent), parents and caregivers should make a greater effort in order to
The weaker language should be routinely associated with fun activities, gratifying
social interactions, etc. It is also important that the parent (or parents) using the
weaker language stay focused and consistent in the use of such language.
7 - Use Consistency
Consistency is often advocated when discussing child rearing and education. In
bilingual education, the use of consistency helps parents who see their child having
a hard time or even refusing to speak the weaker language. In this case it is more
effective to maintain total consistency in the use of one language and, at the same
time, to address the difficulty of the child and create new opportunities for
practicing and interacting in the weaker language.
8 - Provide Exposure
Exposure to other bilingual individuals or to people who are fluent in the weaker
language can greatly benefit the bilingual child. Involvement in situations where both
languages (or just the weaker one) are spoken will provide encouragement and
9 - Don't Force It
Even if raising a bilingual child is very important to the parent, imposing a language
almost always backfires. As with many chores and duties, making things fun always
helps. When teaching a language, it is very helpful to designate some special times
and activities with the child where he can relax and have fun (while learning and
using the language). Playing a sport, reading a book, having friends over to play a
board game are some of the activities that a parent can organize to make
language practice fun.
10 - Don't Believe Negative Stereotypes
It has been demonstrated that being bilingual is not only an advantage, but it also
comes very natural and does not cause any delay in the child's development. If you
are in doubt, make sure to do some research and read what the latest studies say
about it. The hardest thing for a parent wanting to raise a bilingual child would be to
apply all of the above techniques and, at the same time, feel uncertain and dubious
about the benefits. So go online, type something like "benefits of bilingual
education" in any search engine, and get rid of those negative stereotypes. You will
be glad you did!