Today, more than ever, I’m running across more parents who are interested in raising their children bilingual. The challenge for many of these families is that they only speak one language, English.
So how do you raise a bilingual child in a monolingual household? Is it even possible?
Every family is different, but here are six steps we’re taking to raise our son bilingual despite neither my husband nor I being fluent (or anywhere close to fluent) in another language:
1. Taking advantage of our city’s language immersion preschool.
The advantage of living in a large city like Dallas is that there are several immersion preschools in the area. I know of Spanish preschools, a French preschool, a Mandarin preschool, and of course our beloved German preschool.
Because both my husband and I work outside of the home, childcare is a critical part of our lives. My line of thinking is that if my child needs childcare anyway, he might as well get an experience enriched beyond anything his dad or I would be able to provide. For us, that’s a language immersion experience.
2. Learning the language on our own.
If you’re a monolingual parent whose child is learning a second language, whether through family or friends, a bilingual nanny or babysitter, or a language immersion preschool, one of the best ways to connect with your child during his or her bilingual journey is to learn the language yourself.
Through the internet, there are hundreds of tools to help you get started. If you have no prior experience with a language, I recommend starting with Duolingo because it’s free, and it’s actually fun too. I started learning German using Duolingo and then later went through the Pimsleur series, which I couldn’t recommend more. Today, I use many different resources — books, apps, videos, podcasts and blogs — to learn German. I’m easily bored, so I need variety to stay motivated and progressing.
3. Playing with bilingual flashcards at home.
No aspiring bilingual household would be complete without a deck of great bilingual flashcards. Lil’ollo makes some of the best I’ve seen — and in a half dozen languages beyond the standard French and German. They have sets for colors, numbers, animals and more.
I picked up an additional set of German farm-themed kids’ flashcards at my local Half Price Books a few months ago. They aren’t as pretty as Lil’ollo’s, but they are also a solid set of flashcards. When it comes to flashcards, I say the more, the better!
4. Watching YouTube videos in our target language.
As I’m typing this on my computer, my child is watching my favorite German kids’ video on my phone:
I try to minimize my son’s screen time, but I’m a modern mama with a high spirited toddler, so for sanity’s sake, we do watch some videos, mostly of Jeeps, monster trucks, and German kids’ songs. There’s no shame in consuming some educational YouTube content every now and then to give yourself a short parenting break.
5. Speaking in our target language at home.
I’m far from fluent. And though my toddler knows and speaks German well at preschool, he prefers to use English at home. I don’t let these barriers stand in the way of speaking words and phrases, here and there, at home. I may say one sentence in English and switch to German for the next sentence.
My limited German may not always be 100% spot-on, but that’s also OK. What’s important, in my opinion, is continual exposure, and as far as perfection is concerned, I believe in following the 80/20 rule.
6. Documenting our journey on this blog and social media.
Languages are social in nature, and what better way to socialize a monolingual-to-bilingual transformation than by documenting the journey on a blog and social media? If you haven’t seen my Instagram account yet, feel free to check it out and connect at @YearofGerman.
If you’re on a bilingual journey of your own, I’d love to follow you as well! Please leave a comment and let me know where to find you on social media.