You’ve made the decision to start your child on the path to becoming bilingual. That is – you’ve spent hours and hours online, talking to other parents and reading about which language to pick. Even though you might not speak it yourself, you’ve decided that you want your child to learn Chinese, Arabic, French, Spanish or another language. Okay, so the hard part is over. Right? Well, you have taken the first step. Now you need to know where to go from there!
1. Pick a language. Really, truly firm up your selection. This not only takes research, but also some serious thought too. Reading an article or two won’t do when it comes to picking a second language for your child. You need to figure out what you want your child to get out of learning the language, how it will fit into your family’s life and how the language may fit into your child’s future. Some languages (such as Mandarin and Arabic) are “critical languages,” meaning that they’re in high need. The government and international businesses need people who speak “critical languages” fluently, but there aren’t many Americans who are studying them. Choosing a “critical language” may give your child an eventual edge when they enter the workforce
2. Research resources. After choosing a language, the next step is to find out what resources in your area are available. There are the obvious ones—classes and tutors. But, there are a few not so in-your-face options that may require some more in-depth research. Cultural organizations, community centers and even playgroups (for children who speak the second language) all provide ways to help your child learn. You may also want to check out the local college’s language department. Not that you want to enroll your toddler in a university-level course. But, the language department staff might have ideas or insights that never even occurred to you. They also may be able to connect you to one of their students who can teach private lessons or work as a nanny (immersing your child in their native language).
3. Gather materials. The specific language-learning materials that you need depends on your child’s age. Your baby won’t benefit from foreign language flashcards. But, your preschooler may. If you’ve got an infant or toddler, audio type of materials may work better (think audio books, songs and other types of recordings). Older children can also benefit from audio resources, but also need materials with print (such as books or magazines).
4. Decide how dedicated you are. Not only does it take time for your child to learn the second language (class time, tutoring time and studying time), but it also takes effort on your part. Think about how much time you have to invest in finding a teacher, tutor or class.
You’ll also need to know the amount of time that you have to help your child study, bring them to lessons and take cultural ‘field trips’ (such as visiting a Chinese festival or going to a French restaurant). Along with these, you need to know how much time you can devote to researching learning the language (but, we’ve already done much of this for you—so keep on reading our new posts!).
5. Create a budget. List out all of the expenses that go into raising a bilingual child. You’ve got the language lessons (or possibly a private tutor) and any class materials. There are also extra resources, such as children’s books in the second language, audio materials, DVD’s, CD’s and flashcards. Don’t forget to add in the cost of entertainment types of education. This may include foreign language playgroups, buying meals/food at a foreign market or going to cultural festivals.
6. Take a look at your family support system. Does your spouse or partner want your child to learn a second language? When the other parent isn’t on board, it makes raising a bilingual child much more of a challenge. Knowing if you’ll have to jump head first into foreign language learning by yourself may make a difference in how you approach your child’s journey towards becoming bilingual. Understanding the depth of your family support system beforehand is an absolute must-know well before your child starts their first lesson.
7. Formulate an end goal. How far do you want your child to go? Do you want a child who is completely fluent in a second language? Is it okay with you if they only moderately know how to read and write in the language? Or, is this more of a ‘for fun’ type of activity? Your goals will dictate the next steps and the overall path that your child’s bilingual education takes.
8. Find a network. Even if the rest of your family isn’t into your child being bilingual, you can still find support.
Start talking to other parents who have the same language goals that you have.
This gives you the chance to set up foreign language playgroups, get support and find resources that you might otherwise not know about.
9. Understand your child’s temperament and learning preferences. Does your child need one-on-one coaching? Maybe your child is shy and does better with a tutor, instead of being put into a class of 20 kids. On the other hand, maybe your child is super-outgoing and craves all things social. If that’s the case, a larger class or a playgroup may be in order. Matching who your child is and how they learn to the type of educational experience that you choose is absolutely essential. A mismatch is likely to make learning much more difficult—or cause your child to quit.
10. Know your limits. What are you willing to do? Is driving to the other side of town for Chinese lessons it? Or, are you willing to take a week off from work in the summer and go to a language immersion camp with your child?
Ask yourself what lengths you’ll go to when it comes to helping your child learn.
This includes the willingness to learn the language yourself too. Jumping in and being a bilingual buddy with your child may make the process easier for both of you.
Why did you pick your child’s foreign language? Share your story with us in the comments section!