Communicating with bilingual children is a topic which parents frequently raise during therapy sessions. In this post, I have chosen to address five common concerns that parents have voiced to me regarding this issue.
Common Concern 1: “What language should I use when I speak to my child?”
Answer: Speak your child in your strongest language.
You are your child’s primary language model. Children learn language from their environment, and much of this is attributed to their parents, who they are around most of the time. It is important to speak to your child in the language that you are most fluent in and feel the most comfortable using. When you speak to your child in your strongest language, you are providing them with a correct language model. If you speak to your child in a language that you are not fluent in, you are likely to be providing them with an inaccurate language model (e.g. exposing them to incorrect grammar) which they will also start using.
Common Concern 2: “We speak more than one language at home and I am worried about the impact that this will have on my child's language development.”
Answer: It is completely fine for your child to be exposed to more than one language.
It is common for children to be exposed to more than one language at home (growing up, I was exposed to three languages). However, when communicating with your child, you should avoid mixing two languages in the same sentence. I know that this is easier said than done, and most people (including myself) are guilty of doing this. If you constantly struggle to find words in the language that you are using to communicate with your child, then you should consider using a different language. By using one language consistently within a sentence, you are modelling to your child the correct and grammatically appropriate way to combine words together.
Common Concern 3: “I prefer to use a different language than my spouse does to communicate with my child.”
Answer: Keep language person-specific.
If your child is exposed to more than one language at home, try to keep each language specific to a particular person. For instance, you should consistently speak to your child in your strongest language, whereas your spouse on the other hand, should consistently speak to your child in their strongest language. It is important that you both do this consistently when communicating with your child so that your child makes the association between the person and the language to be used when communicating with them.
Common Concern 4: “I tend to use different languages at different times. I’m afraid that I am confusing my child by doing this...”
Answer: Keep language situation-specific.
If you are fluent in two languages, you can use both of them to communicate with your child. The key is to keep each language specific to certain situations so that your child can make the association between a situation and the language that they should be using. For instance, you may want to speak to your child in one language when you are outside of your home, but in another language when you are at home.
Common Concern 5: “I am worried that if I speak to my child in my native language, they will fall behind in English.”
Response: It is completely fine to speak to your child consistently in your native language.
Often parents voice concerns about their child’s English language development if they are speaking to them in their native language. You should not be concerned in this case because children will learn English at school and from exposure to other children. Also, because of their young age and their ability to learn, children tend to pick up English quite quickly. In fact, I often see that children whose first language was not English, eventually prefer to use English in their daily interactions.
If you have any questions about this topic, or anything that you would like to share, please do not hesitate to comment below.
The Expat Speechie
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