It seemed so easy to start with.
Knowing the many benefits of raising a bilingual child (improved brain flexibility, greater employability, connection with family and heritage) you decide to embrace the opportunity and make your home a non-English zone. You tell your family, agree on a plan (who speaks what, where and when) and await the day your lives are joyfully turned upside down and baby arrives.
It starts well; ‘mama’ and ‘milk’ are easy to remember in your home language, and you celebrate as baby says their first words. Then they start nursery; after an initial quiet period, they start to chatter away in English with their friends, then come home and talk to you in the home language.
But after a while, you start to slip. When you’re tired, and you’ve had a long day, you find yourself increasingly using English at home. What will this mean for your child’s bilingualism?
Firstly, there is no need to feel guilty. Switching between languages is a normal feature of being bilingual, and if it feels natural then carry on. Your child will be able to separate the languages out after a while. But, as we know, having a bilingual child confers so many benefits that it is worth persevering.
We racked our brains and came up with these ideas to help keep the home language going. Can you think of any more?
- Start small: choose just 15 minutes a day (e.g. bath time) where you speak NO English, then once you do this consistently, add another time of day (e.g. dinner), then another…
- Have a penalty jar- every time you forget to use your home language, put 10p in (or a slip of paper). Then once you’ve got enough, use it to buy a book in the home language (this site has lots: http://www.alien-languages.com/).
- Find a radio station in your home language to listen to in the mornings as a reminder.
- Label things in your house in your home language, then when you point to it, you’ll remember to not use English.
- Change your phone’s settings to your home language, so you’re reminded when you look at it.
- Try the books/websites here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bi-multilingualism/resources
- Find children’s books, tv shows and songs in the home language.
- Finally, enjoy speaking it! If it looks like a chore to you, your child will pick up on this; have fun with it, and your child will see it as something to be celebrated.
Written by Anna Sowerbutts, Speech and Language Therapist