Raising a Bilingual Child? Don’t Do This!

We want to give our children the best opportunities to learn and get ahead of the pack by being bilingual. Nevertheless, in the process, there are some mistakes parents (yes, even me) end up making, sometimes even without realizing it.

There’s not much reason to keep mulling and regretting things we could’ve done better, but let’s look at some common mistakes and make sure nobody has to go through them again.

little-boy-reading-book_zpszgfpmzkl The first mistake I want to talk about is insisting for the child to speak the language when they don’t want to. This can come in two manners. First, and I’m guilty of this one, is pushing your child to talk when they don’t want to do it.

It is a behavior that is bound to build resentment. In some major cases, it can even go as far as to keep the child from wanting to learn the language. It can be hard for parents to keep from “showcasing” their kids’ skills, but doing so might not be such a great idea.

Another similar mistake a parent can make is trying to force their child to learn a language the child does not want to learn. This is a mistake that might occur if your kid starts learning at a later age. Let’s say you dearly want your son to learn Japanese, but for some reason, he refuses to go along with that plan. A wise man once said that only a fool fights the tide. And in this instance, you and your child would both benefit from a more sensible approach. Instead of forcing your son to learn a language he doesn’t want to learn, why not try and find a different language he’s more willing to study?


I know a writer from Brazil, whose parents wanted him to grow up bilingual speaking both Portuguese and English. His problem was that he didn’t enjoy speaking English, much less learning it. Instead of forcing him to learn English against his will, they took a step back and looked for a language he’d be more interested in.

He ended up learning French, which in turn led him to learn English a few years later. He picked his English learning back up with more enthusiasm than he would have if they forced him to learn it right away.

Even though he was already in his mid-teens by the time he got serious about learning English his previous experience with a second language helped him pick up English faster and even develop his speaking free of an accent. Years later he got a journalism degree in New York and became a writer (with better written English than his writing in his native language, Portuguese).

Either way, if you follow the advice of starting your child on a new language as early as possible, the odds of a similar problem occurring should be lower.

The second major mistake a parent can make is trying to teach their child when they know they have no clue about what they’re trying to teach. This can be dangerous, so listen (or read) carefully!

Let me give you an example I came across not too long ago. Chinese is a very tonal language. The tones are arguably the hardest and most important factor you learn in Chinese since any minor mistake you make can change the meaning of what you’re trying to say.

I had a friend that kept telling her son to say lao shu (mouse) instead of the correct word lao shi (teacher). This is a perfect example of a parent trying to teach her child even though she didn’t know exactly what she was doing. All along she had been telling him to say mouse at school, rather than looking it up herself or doing the right thing here, which would be to step back and let him learn from his teachers.

There is no shame in not knowing something you want your son to learn. Take that step back and both of you will benefit. You’ll get the most out of the classes you’re paying for, and he will learn faster and more accurately.

The last mistake I want to talk about is another one I’m guilty of committing. There is such a thing as overeducating.

It took me a bit to realize it, but at the height of my son’s education, he was basically spending his whole day in a Mandarin educational environment or another, which is the equivalent of being in school all day.

Bombarding our children with educational resources can give them an edge over the competition and a whole lot of opportunities, but we have to remember that they’re still children. While it is good that they are learning, they should still have time to have some fun and let their brains relax at least a few hours every day. You wouldn’t want to be at work every waking hour, right? Well, neither does your child (mine included)

Have you come across any common mistakes parents of bilingual children make? Let us know in the comment section below. And remember to check out our Facebook page @our21stcenturykids for more news.



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