Raising a bilingual child is a challenge. You want your child to learn as much as possible, but you don’t want to be an “over educator.”
Finding a balance, and recognizing when to back off, can help your child to learn at their own pace and develop a real love for the foreign language.
That said, knowing what not to do is sometimes as important as knowing what to do! If you feel like you’re struggling in this area, keep this list in mind as your child becomes bilingual.
1. Don’t force your child. Okay, so your toddler would rather crash his toy trains into a pile of building blocks than head out to language lessons. That’s completely normal. It’s not that your young child doesn’t like foreign language classes. It’s more that your child needs a gentle nudge.
This is a completely different scene than when your child screams and throws a tantrum every time the two of you walk into class. If your little learner actively resists going to lessons, withdraws during the class or puts up a constant struggle, it may be time to let go of this foreign language. At the very least, you may want to re-evaluate your approach.
This might mean switching from group classes to private tutoring sessions or looking for a new teacher.
2. Never make your child feel stupid for not knowing the “right” answer. No one likes to be put on the spot—especially your child. Asking your child to recite words in the foreign language or translate sentences may make them feel self-conscious.
What happens next? Your child freezes and can’t remember or say the words that you’re asking about. If this happens, never make your child feel stupid or like they don’t know enough.
3. Allow your child to switch languages. So you spent the better part of your budget on French classes. And now your child wants to learn Spanish? That’s okay. The more languages the merrier! That’s not to say that you should respond to every language whim by letting your child switch classes every other month. But if your child has a genuine interest in a different language, take it into serious consideration.
4. Step back a level, if needed. Sometimes spending months or years studying a foreign language isn’t enough. If your child is getting passed from level to level, without gaining the knowledge that is necessary for a strong foundation, you may need to take the bilingual education back a step, or a few.
Learning the basics is absolutely necessary. Your child can’t spell words before learning all of the alphabet, right?
When teachers or tutors pass kids through a program (without an actual assessment or without paying attention to an assessment), true learning doesn’t happen.
Make sure that your child is truly learning. If not, go back to the beginning and build up from there.
5. Be understanding. Learning a new language isn’t easy. Even though young children may have an easier time picking up on a second language than us grown-ups do, it doesn’t mean that it’s super-simple for your child all of the time. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Avoid judging or assuming anything when it comes to learning a foreign language.
Instead, ask your child to explain what they are feeling. Show empathy when your child struggles, and be there all of the time to listen. If you child let’s you know something isn’t working, make a plan to change things. This shows your child that you understand what they’re saying and want to help.
Has your child asked to switch languages? Share your story with us in the comment section!