FAQs: Raising Bilingual Kids

But will speaking to my child in my native language make it harder for him to learn English when he goes to school?

Question

But will speaking to my child in my native language make it harder for him to learn English when he goes to school?

Answer

Before children start school, they may be exposed to English on TV, in the playground, and in the print they see on cereal boxes and street signs. Children will learn a lot about English from the environment around them. If your child has also had some formal exposure to English, such as going to a playgroup in which English is the primary language spoken, then school can provide additional opportunities for him to learn the language. Children and teachers alike can serve as models, helping your child communicate what he knows and can do. You may even be surprised by how quickly he picks up the language as he plays and learns alongside other English-speaking children. If your child has had no formal exposure to English, he will use what he knows about his native language to learn English - which will be a major task. Talk with your child's teacher about your goals for your child, as well as any concerns you have.

Excerpt from "Learning Two Languages." Reprinted with permission from PBS Parents.

If we only speak to our child in English, will he lose his ability to speak in native language?

Question

If we only speak to our child in English, will he lose his ability to speak in native language?

Answer

Yes. You will therefore need to decide if you want your child to maintain his skills in your native language. Consider your long-term goals. If you and your family will not return to your home country, maintaining the native language may not be a priority. Also consider your family situation. If extended family members don't speak English, it will be important for your child to maintain his native language so he can communicate with people closest to him. Also consider how your child might feel about losing his native language and a sense of his cultural identity when he gets older.

Excerpt from "Learning Two Languages." Reprinted with permission from PBS Parents.

My child insists on talking to me in English. How can I help her maintain her native language?

Question

My child insists on talking to me in English. How can I help her maintain her native language?

Answer

It requires time, persistence, and creativity. Some parents speak to their child only in their native language, even if their child responds in English. Other parents send their children to afterschool programs to learn more about their native language. You can also create routines to help your child maintain her native language — from outings with family members to watching movies and reading books in your native language.

Excerpt from "Learning Two Languages." Reprinted with permission from PBS Parents.

My child insists on talking to me in English. How can I help her maintain her native language?

Question

My child insists on talking to me in English. How can I help her maintain her native language?

Answer

It requires time, persistence, and creativity. Some parents speak to their child only in their native language, even if their child responds in English. Other parents send their children to afterschool programs to learn more about their native language. You can also create routines to help your child maintain her native language - from outings with family members to watching movies and reading books in your native language.

My child is learning English as a second language. What should I do if he makes mistakes?

Question

My child is learning English as a second language. What should I do if he makes mistakes?

Answer

Avoid correcting your child or you might discourage him. A good way to help your child learn the "right" way to say something is to affirm what he says, using the correct pronunciation, sentence structure, or grammar. For example, if your child says, "The mail comed," you might say, "You're right. The mail came. Let's see if we got a letter from Grandma."

Excerpt from "Learning Two Languages." Reprinted with permission from PBS Parents.

 

My child seems embarrassed when I speak to him in my native language. What can I do?

Question

My child seems embarrassed when I speak to him in my native language. What can I do?

Answer

Help your child see that speaking another language is something to be proud of. You can share your pride in your language and your culture in a number of ways. Talk about family photos and events and special people in your lives. Tell your child about traditions and celebrate them together. Read fairy tales, myths, and other stories from your culture. Reading and talking about these stories will help your child learn new words and explore new concepts. At the same time, these stories will help your child learn about and take pride in your cultural values and traditions.

Excerpt from "Learning Two Languages." Reprinted with permission from PBS Parents.

My cousin just came to this country and doesn't speak English. How can she help her toddler learn English?

Question

My cousin just came to this country and doesn't speak English. How can she help her toddler learn English?

Answer

Even if your cousin doesn't speak English, she can build connections with English-language speakers. She can take her toddler to story hour at her local public library. These times often include songs and finger plays in addition to a story read aloud by a librarian. Trips to the playground will also provide her child with opportunities to play alongside English-language speakers. Such activities will not only help her child learn English, but can help your cousin learn English as well.

Excerpt from "Learning Two Languages." Reprinted with permission from PBS Parents.

My husband speaks to our daughter in English. I want to speak to her in my native language. Won't she get confused?

Question

My husband speaks to our daughter in English. I want to speak to her in my native language. Won't she get confused?

Answer

Learning even just one language is a complex process. But young children have the potential to learn more than one language. Again, what is most important is that you talk with your child in the language with which you are most comfortable, so you can have the types of conversations that promote your child's thinking and language development.

It is also important to be a good language model and not mix up languages. That is, when talking with your child in English, don't mix in phrases and sentences from your native language. However, don't be surprised if your child uses words from both languages in one sentence. This is not a sign of confusion, but her current way of communicating what she wants to say.

Excerpt from "Learning Two Languages." Reprinted with permission from PBS Parents.

What else can I do to help my child become a reader and writer?

Question

What else can I do to help my child become a reader and writer?

Answer

Regardless of the language you use with your child, you can extend his literacy skills by reading, writing, and talking together as much as possible. Make shopping lists and write letters to special people together. Look at cookbooks and make your child's favorite recipes together. Tell stories together and write them down so you and your child can revisit them later. Read different types of books together, from poetry to storybooks to nonfiction. Talk to your child about the books he reads, his experiences, and what he imagines. By talking and reading to your child each day, by reading and writing yourself, and by listening to your child read to you, you will encourage a love of language and a lifelong love of reading.

Excerpt from "Learning Two Languages." Reprinted with permission from PBS Parents.