Raising bilingual children

I haven’t blogged for a while due to lack of time – and whenever I did sit down to start writing, words failed me. What could I possibly write about? This blog’s topic is close to my heart as it involves my parenting and two children, predominantly my toddler (the 4-month old hasn’t said much yet).

Before Lena was born, I read all sorts of tips and tricks of how to raise bilingual children. I was horrified when I read of parents who were saying that their youngsters had stopped using one language and only responded in the other, or that they even kicked their parents for “not speaking the right language”! I was convinced that we would be different one day.

Now, three years into the experiment of raising bilingual child No. 1, it is time for a reality check.

What have we done to foster bilingualism so far?

We’re using both languages, English and German, on a daily basis. We try to read as many stories in both languages as possible, and use puppets to reinforce vocabulary in a fun way. Frankly, German is omnipresent in this house.

What are the results?

Our toddler speaks English fluently and is able to form complex sentences using the correct tenses. According to professionals, she is more advanced linguistically than any other of her peers. Now, this didn’t come overnight, I should add. Her active language development was delayed by a couple of months, considering that when she joined nursery a year ago, she did not speak any English at all.

With regard to her German, this is a different story. Her passive understanding is immaculate. We can explain things to her, ask her to do something, read stories, even reason with her in German without any communication problems. In terms of her active use of German, it has become quite evident that English is her preferred and dominant language. She will use German words in an English sentence if she hasn’t learned the English word so far – “Mummy, I want to wear my Bademantel (dressing gown) please!”

What are the challenges?

Bilingualism needs to be reinforced constantly. We often catch ourselves speaking too much English and then fall back into German; also, it is tempting to just answer in English when asked a question in English. We are permanently aware of our language, and when speaking in German, we try to speak High German to avoid teaching a dialect or words we consider to be too colloquial. In an ideal world, she will one day be able to go and live in Germany without sounding (too) foreign 🙂

What are the benefits?

Lots of fun and laughter! 🙂 When I counted to 10 in German the other day, I was told off by our toddler because I wasn’t counting “properly”, ie. in English! You become smarter by challenging the functionality of your brain, your memory improves, you have a special skill on your CV, you can socialise in other countries, have better communication skills… The list is endless!

A word of warning!

As a parent of bilingual/multilingual children, you believe that there’s nothing more fun in the world than flashcards in various languages…who needs Barbie dolls for Christmas when you can have magnetic vocabulary cards? 🙂

8 THINGS EVERY PARENT RAISING BILINGUAL KIDS IS GUILTY OF DOING…

1) You think flash cards and vocabulary games are fun.

2) You spend most days on Pinterest trying to enhance the experience of language learning.

3) You spend most of your salary in the bookstore.

4) You look for more languages your child could learn next.

5) You find yourself fretting about your child’s linguistic progress, comparing her with her peers.

6) You find yourself justifying why your child mixes up words.

7) You are chief interpreter for friends and family!

8) You are having a secret conversation with your partner in one language, assuming your toddler will not understand you (e.g. normally relating to their bed- or bath time), and out of nowhere comes the voice of protest. You always assume you can get away with more than is actually possible.

Kathrin xLeni Kindi

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