It’s that time of the year again where we are ready to bring in yet another year. Can you believe how fast this year has flown by? Everyone is starting to think about their New Year’s Resolutions, the most popular being personal resolutions like losing weight, or quitting a bad habit.
As a parent raising bilingual kids, I have been thinking more about our family, how our language journey is progressing, and what we can do in the new year to improve.
I am Australian, and live in Italy with my Italian husband and two children who are being raised bilingually with English and Italian. They are also learning Spanish, though this is the language that gets the least exposure, so I hope we can work on this in the year to come.
Here are some common resolutions for multilingual families to think about when bringing in the new year:
Talk, Talk, and Talk some more
Talking is the best way to encourage a child to use a language. Use the time you have with your children speaking with them, creating conversation, and allowing them to practice the language. This is especially for parents who speak the minority language such as myself.
My children are exposed to so much Italian during their day at the nursery and pre-school. I must make that little extra effort when I am with them, so that the time we spend together is spent talking with each other.
Add more books to our home library
I am a big advocate of reading to children. Reading aloud is one of the most important things to help their language development. Constantly adding new books to the home library is a great way to get kids motivated to read. We have a range of Italian and English books, but we don’t actually have many Spanish books. Spanish is the language with the least exposure, so I hope we can add more of their favourites in the new year in order to encourage the use of the language.
Spending more time speaking the minority languages:
The minority language can always do with a little more exposure. For parents who speak the minority language with their children, finding new ways to get them speaking more fluently is always on the to-do-list! When there is a need to speak the language, they will speak it. It is all just about creating that need.
Living in Italy, it seems like my children are constantly speaking Italian. I am their only exposure to English and they have only a few hours of Spanish per week. In the new year, I would like to prioritise their minority languages more. I will try to skype with my family in Australia more often, I will allow them to watch more TV in English and Spanish. And I will try to encourage my children to speak more English with each other when playing together.
We will continue with their Spanish lessons, and hopefully add a few more hours if possible. I would also love to travel to a Spanish speaking country where they can be fully immersed in the language. (Not sure if that will happen, but it is a definite possibility).
Stop comparing our children’s’ language development to others
All children develop their language differently, just as they reach other milestones at different times. Some children walk at nine months old, and some well after one year old. Some children potty train at 18 months, and some take until three years old or more. It is an important reminder to stop comparing their development to other kids. Maybe a friend’s child is speaking fluently three languages at three years old, but your child is struggling to speak two at the same age. It doesn’t mean they won’t get there, it just means that they are developing differently and need a little more time.
My two children have developed quite differently, and I have many friends with bilingual and multilingual children who are also developing their languages at a different pace. I have learned along the way that there is no use comparing them with each other, they will all get there eventually.
Learn more about the world and different cultures
The world is becoming increasingly small, and cultural understanding is important for all children. The more children learn about the world, and the different people in it, the more open minded they grow up. It is great if you are able to travel with your children showing them different places and introducing them to different people. However, if this is not possible, there are always other ways they can learn about the world from home.
As each year passes and my children grow, I feel this increasingly important that I introduce them to new surroundings. I hope that I will be able to travel more with my children in the new year, however if not, I know I must try my best to teach them about the world and other cultures as much as I can.
Keep going, even through the difficult times
Nobody said raising multilingual children was an easy task. We must take one day at a time, try not to stress about the little things, and instead try to concentrate on our long term goals. Let’s make every moment count, our children are worth it!
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