The bilingual child

25 May

Raising a bilingual child can bid on some challenges. As you might know we are a bilingual family my husband is American and I am Norwegian. We talk English to each other at home and Josh speaks English to Olivia. I speak Norwegian to here and she goes to a Norwegian daycare.

So far things are going quite well she is talking and babbling just like any almost 2 year old does and has no problem understanding what is going on around here. I know a lot of bilingual family’s and although non of them have had what I would qualify as a problem there are a few challenges that go along with having more then one language in the home.

A few factors seem to be common in a bilingual family, children seem to start talking a little later then most children, and the children may be harder for people outside the family to understand since most of them seem to mix there languages in the beginning. Some times you may not even notice that your bilingual child is a late talker but I can almost guarantee you they would have started out earlier if they only had one language to decipher.

Beyond those few common things the rest of the child’s language development seems to be very different and also depend greatly on the parents attitude to the situation. Here are a few examples. I know a family that had twins, they started out talking a mix of french and Norwegian but since they lived in Norway they soon chose Norwegian as there spoken language, There mother would talk to them in french and they would answer in Norwegian. Then when they were older maybe 10 or 11 they moved out of the country and started a french school. They quickly adapted to the french school and started talking french at school and at home. They later had siblings who spoke both french and Norwegian from the beginning even though they only lived in Norway. But there siblings speaking french at home was enough to make them use the language at home.

Another family I know had two french speaking parents but lived in Norway. The children spoke french until they were old enough to go outside and play with other children, they then learned Norwegian and now speak french at home and Norwegian everywhere else.

I also know a family that has an English mother and Norwegian father living in Norway. The parents spoke English to each other but the mother made an effort to try and speak Norwegian as much as possible. This resulted in the children speaking only Norwegian from the beginning but when they went to England on vacation they would within hours start talking English. So they obviously had learned and mastered the language even though they never used it at home.

Those are just a few examples but I think they demonstrate that children all learn in different ways and react different to there environment and also that if you have bilingual children it is very much up to the parents how the child will respond. It does seem that most children will chose one language over the other unless they are in some way forced to use both. We are in a slightly different situation then the people I already know in that we will have a child that has a parent that doesn’t fully understand what will be her primary language and the one she is most likely to chose as here spoken language. So I guess we will have to see what she does I hope she will speak both and we will do what we can to encourage that she does.

We are also considering sending here to an English daycare a few days a week to help her master both. To us it is important that she is able to talk to her relatives in the states on the phone and skype so we will be encouraging her to use both.

One thing that is important when raising a bilingual child is to be patient, you may be waiting a little longer then most to hear those first words, but the rewards are great both for you and your child, you will both be able to speak and read to your child in your native language and your child will have about double the vocabulary of other children their age. Children who are bilingual also seem to pick up other languages easier and all that extra vocabulary is real good exercise for their growing brains. So keep at it and don’t give up.

One thing that we chose to do and that can be a good help if you end up waiting a while for those first words is to teach your baby sign language. babies can start signing from about 9 months and they pick this up so easy once they have learned a few signs. We have taught Olivia about 15-20 signs, most of them she has stooped using as she learned the words instead but the interesting thing is that it has tough her to use her hands a lot more then other kids when she speaks, and can be quite animated at times, she even makes up her own signs now, she has one for open, airplane and outside that she has started using just the last month. Very cute.

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