Not that long ago you were cuddling a newborn baby. A few years flew by and now you begin to realize that your bilingual baby is no longer a baby and has friends of his own. He/she is slowly detaching from you and losing any interest and/or opportunity to speak your language.
You blame yourself for speaking too little to your child, for not reading to him enough, for being exhausted and taking time for yourself. You think about how you probably should have stayed with him since you were the only language speaker. You can not stop thinking about it.
What can you do now that your child has started school?
1. Be realistic.
Yes, you are right. You should have spoken more and read more to your child while he was younger… you should …you should … don’t we like to blame ourselves for everything? It is time to stop and evaluate the results, and they are good no matter how they may seem at this point. Even if your child only understands the language, you did what you could within your particular family setting. You child received a very important base for continual learning of the language. Now you must guide him to further his learning, just as you would with sports, music and other after school activities. You may need other people’s help with this task, such as language teachers and native speakers.
2. Be a good language model for your child.
Keep speaking your heritage language as often as possible. Keep speaking to your child, even if he does not respond to you. Speak to him in your language no matter where you are and who is around. He needs to know that it matters to you, that you care, and that there is nothing bad in being different from others and speaking a different language.
3. Be enthusiastic about your child’s success and don’t pay attention to the failures.
Positive attitude really helps in everything we do!
4. Help your bilingual child to build vocabulary.
I remember how desperate I felt when I lived in a country where I did not speak the language. The moment I learned some words I started experimenting with them. Your child will do it, too, if given the opportunity. Here are some tools for vocabulary building:
- TV/Media/Games in the Minority Language – Your child wants to watch TV, view cartoons, or play games for an extra hour. Sure, why not? Have your child watch or play these things in your language. At least there will be some benefits from it.
- Set Your Minority Language as the Device’s Default Language – Changing the language of the equipment your child has access to allow extra practice.
- Radio – Listen to the kids radio in your language, and find age appropriate programs that interest your child.
- Sticky Notes – Stick notes with words and sentences written in your language on the kitchen and bathroom cabinets and on walls in your child’s room. You can use them to label objects, too. Make it a game. Ask your child to find all words starting with a particular letter. Depending on the child’s language level, you can either write posted notes yourself, ask him to do it, or label them together. Experiment! Invent a game that interests your child.
- Kid’s Magazines – It might be expensive to have them delivered from abroad, but don’t be put off by the shipping costs. If you compare subscription cost to meals out, you will see it’s not that bad. Have a couple of meals at home instead of going out to save money. Also, some magazines offer an online subscription and have website with activities.
5. Meet with others who speak your language.
- Minority Language Speakers – Look for people living in your city who speak your language. In the process you may end up enjoying a nice chat or finding friends for yourself and your child. Look for local parent groups on Facebook, and check with a local embassy, too.
- Au pair – If you have the opportunity, hire an au pair who would be happy to support your child’s minority language while studying a community language in her free time.
- Student – You can invite to dinner a student who speaks your language. Check with a local university to see if they can help put you contact with someone.
- Travel to Your Heritage Language Country – This really helps to motivate your child to speak your language. The first time I visited my home country with my kids they were 4 and 6 years old. It was an experience they continue to recall and look forward to repeating again.
6. Find a language teacher.
- Bilingual School/Foreign Language School – Check if there is a local bilingual school or a school that teaches your minority language as a foreign language.
- Private Tutor – I know parents who are excellent in math yet still hire a private tutor for their child. Why? More often than not a child will listen more to another person besides a parent and will not complain or try to find excuses as much.
- Weekend School – Besides teaching minority languages, these schools often include culture programs of the heritage country, too.
- Language Teacher Online – Don’t forget what modern technology can do for your bilingual child. The language teacher can be anywhere on the earth thanks to video calling!
I hope these tips will help you support your bilingual child in learning his heritage language. You are welcome to share your ideas in the comment section below. Good luck!
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