Raising bi-lingual children? These Suggestions will help.

April 23, 2015

Last week we published the story of a recent interaction between Aída and a mother from a Spanish-speaking family. The mother was struggling to help her son succeed in an English-only classroom. Though she spoke no English, she wanted her son to be successful and was frustrated that her son’s instructors and speech pathologist indicated that by speaking only Spanish to him at home, she was contributing to his academic struggles. What was this concerned mother to do, and was her heritage language really to blame?

Thankfully, we were able to introduce this dedicated mother to one of addalingua’s two-way dual language immersion programs where her son will gain the competency he needs in Spanish while becoming bilingual and biliterate alongside peers from English-speaking families. But the interaction does raise significant questions about the challenges facing minority language families, and about the potential of DLI education to help these families preserve and appreciate their heritage language even as their children gain fluency and literacy in the community’s majority language.

Ana Paula G. Mumy is a multilingual speech pathologist and mother dedicated to raising bilingual children. Like the mother Aída interacted with, Mumy is committed to seeing her children appreciate their heritage language while becoming bilingual and biliterate. Her recent post at multilingualliving.com offers some helpful suggestions for families whose home language differs from their community’s majority language, and we wanted to share a few of her suggestions as an encouragement to other minority language families. The full piece is worth your time, but here are a few of the highlights from her recommendations:

Be Intentional

  • Realize that everyday activities such as mealtimes, getting dressed, bath time, and playtime are all opportunities for talking, teaching, and providing quality language exposure. Be intentional about ongoing verbal interactions about things, routines, and events in your child’s life.
  • Even if your child is tending to speak more in the majority language, continue speaking to him/her in the minority language. When appropriate, recast the utterance, or present it in a different or changed structure while maintaining its meaning
  • Instill in your child a sense of pride and “need” for the minority language by keeping it relevant and constant in his/her everyday life. Children will inevitably discard a language they do not feel they need.

Be Consistent

  • If you are the primary source of language input for your child in the minority language, consistently speak to your child in that language whether at home or out in the community.

Be Persistent

  • Don’t lose heart or give up even if your child’s language proficiency or skills seem to fluctuate over time in his/her two languages. Some fluctuation is normal as children learn to navigate between both languages.

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