Your child CAN learn several languages at the same time with these 4 Cs: Confidence, Consistency, Clarity & Connection.
First let’s kill a few myths:
1. Learning two languages will confuse your child and cause severe language development delay.
WRONG: some kids might learn a bit later, but it all depends on the child. My daughter learned Danish and English without any issues and very quick, my middle boy a bit later and my youngest really took his time, but they all got there in the end, and all before the age of 2. Some children may also mix grammar and rules in the beginning and from time to time. They might also mix up some words from both languages in the same sentence. But in the end they will get there and they can learn to separate both languages (or more) correctly – with a bit of focus and support from us.
2. Your kids will have a speech disorder!
WRONG: if your child has a speech or language disorder it is not because they have been exposed to more than one language. Keep in mind that a speech disorder will show up in BOTH languages and would have been there even if the child was only learning one language.
3. Kids exposed to 2 (or more languages) will have academic issues later in life and struggle at school.
WRONG – SO WRONG: quite the opposite actually. Kids who learn more than one language from an early age develop so many other useful skills and are often at an academic advantage. They have excellent problem solving and multitasking skills, and increased cognitive flexibility. They are quicker to adapt to new situations and fit in with other cultures. Their brain is simply a sponge for all good learning and development from an early age.
4. They HAVE to learn it as a baby or toddler, or it is too late.
WRONG: of course it is best to start early, when the brain is in its most rapid development phase, but it is never too late to learn. Actually, I am 47 and learning French. It just gets harder the older we get, but difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Young kids just accept the way things are and soak up all the information placed in front of them. Whereas when we get older we start questioning things more and are more self-conscious and afraid to get it wrong. So if you have not spoken your native language to your child so far I advise you to take it up! However, depending on how old your child is, the process will differ; please get in contact for more support.
5. It will affect my relationship and connection with my child if I speak in a different language to ‘their’ mother tongue.
WRONG: I will argue for the opposite, we invite them into our ‘real’ world and thought when we speak to them in our mother tongue. We connect with them at a deeper level. And, create a stronger bond in the future when they really can master our language. There are other means of connecting and communicating than just with words. We don’t have to speak all the time in order to bond. Also, you might be afraid that your child will not listen to your requests when you speak your language but as long as you are mentally and physically connected and at present, they will get what it is that you want them to do or not to do. We can get down at their level, look at them, lightly touch then (to install connection) and say with few words what we expect of them. We can point, show or guide them. CLICK here to read more about ‘how to show that you love your child’.
6. It will be HARD!
TRUE: I am sorry to say it’s true, but it is SO worthwhile for you to persevere, for all of you. Sure there were times when I thought it would be easier to just speak English to my kids as it’s their first language. But keep the long term goal in mind, that one day they WILL be able to confidently speak your language with all of the opportunities that brings.
Have confidence in yourself
Hopefully now that we have busted a few myths I have also killed any doubt within you that your child CAN speak 2 or more languages without getting totally messed up later in life.
How to feel confident
There is no need to create battles – so here are a few tips that will help you feel confident with what you do:
- Find your strengths by knowing how to: hopefully this blog will give you some tips but do a bit of research and explore other ways to proceed.
- Keep the long term goal in mind – your WHY: once you know WHY you are doing what you are doing you will feel motivated. So what is your WHY/goal: for them to be able to speak and understand their grandparent? To open up their future opportunities to live in your country. Because you know it is good for their cognitive and cultural development? So actually, you want to think that giving them this huge gift of a second language is an access to their life and adoption in the world. This WHY/GOAL will be your compass and motivation overtime you doubt yourself.
- Connect with other parents who have DONE it: try to find a group (i.e. on Facebook) with other parents in the same Talk to them. Ask questions. Share experiences so you never need to feel alone.
- Talk to your partner (if you have one): if you and your partner speak different languages, have a chat about how it will work. It can be really hard if one parent doesn’t understand the other language i.e. my husband (who is Irish) didn’t speak or understand Danish. We wanted to avoid splitting the family and having a ‘secret’ language. So have an open chat about how it will be and what you are both confident about. Maybe it is too much to leave the other parent out during meal times so you can agree to a common language then, or maybe it is OK. The 2 main points: Don’t give up just because your partner doesn’t speak your language (or you don’t understand your partner’s) and don’t fall out about it. My husband now understands Danish but I don’t force him to learn to speak it.
- Keep it positive: Let them respond to you in any language they want. It is normal and OK if they choose the language they are most confident in to reply when they are young. Don’t correct them, just keep going. You can also repeat what they have just said but in your language, ‘so what you are saying is that you would like to go to the park’. Later, when they feel more fluent, they will reply to you in your language – have patience. My kids always replied to me in English (sometimes they still do), but suddenly one day they just spoke back in fluent Danish – it takes time – they are processing it all. Don’t put pressure on them.
- When friends are over; if they are self-conscious about you speaking another language when friends are over – don’t. But make it clear to the child why and when you will do it, ‘I get that you don’t want your friends to feel left out – so let’s speak XX when your friends are here, once they have left I will go back to speaking XX to you’.
Connect with your child in your language
The 2nd C is connection with your child. We can really progress well when we have a strong and healthy bond and connection with our child.
- Play every day: the best way for children to learn is through play. Try to set time aside every day where you are 100% with your child and nothing else matters. Try not to teach or correct your child when you talk together, it puts the child under pressure to ‘get it right’ and might put him off talking at all. You can use something called ‘descriptive commenting’ instead. This is where you simply describe everything that goes on between you and your child: what you see, feel, hear and sense. For instance, ‘Wow you are picking up the blue block to put on top of the red block’, ‘It will be a tall tower’, ‘You look so focused and like you are having a great time playing’ etc – pill up the words. This way you not only show the child that you are present by describing everything you see and sense, you also ‘teach’ him new words by matching them to the actions and the situation – teach through play. You also send a signal that they matter and that you are willing to spend your time with them, which can be a huge confidence booster in a busy family life. CLICK here to read about ‘playful parenting’.
- Read together: try to get some picture books in your language and read or tell the story in your language. This way the child can match the images to your words. Not only is it a great way to learn new words but also for the two of you to spend some time together. When my kids were small, once I had read the book for them a few times (in Danish) I asked if they would like to read it to me. They loved it. They pretended to read the words but were telling me the story – it was super fun. Find some fun board games that encourage talking and play them in your language.
- Watch movies: this is a fun way to introduce your language to your kids as they will use so many senses: hearing, watching and having a great time with you. Why not get some movies or television series that kids their age watch in your country. This will really help them to feel they belong when they go to your home country if they can participate in conversations about some of the shows that are on CLICK here to read more about ‘helping kids feel a sense of belonging’.
- Sing: my kids were going nuts listening to me singing all the Danish songs and Carols saying ‘sing along’, using the cooking spoon as a microphone! I still do it! My kids are 19, 21 and 23 but now they willingly join in. My middle son loved a song that I sang every night before bedtime. A year ago (at age 19) when he had to undergo an operation he asked me to sing it, ‘can you sing the song about all the animals from when I was a kid’. Have a special song for each of your kids that is yours and his/hers. Singing a song is a great way to learn new words.
- Listen to your songs: have a playlist of songs from your country. Have them on in the background and you will be amazed how much they take in by just having it there. Try to have songs that are ‘in’ in your country so when they go home they know what people are talking about. You can even say something like ‘That man won the xx last year in xx’, or ‘Everyone is talking xx at home because he/she xx’. Listen to music that kids at ‘home’ your kids’ age would listen to, talk about them, show images of the singer and why not do a ‘sing along’…
Clarity & Consistency
Kids learn by association: Mum speaks French, dad speaks Spanish, in school we speak English, for instance. Our clever small children put it all into small boxes so they know where each language belongs.
So try not to confuse this system by messing it up. Be strict with yourself and speak your language consistently, or stick to any language agreements i.e. not speaking it when friends are over or at the dinner table if the other parent doesn’t understand etc.
You might find that it’s hard now, but no one said parenting was going to be easy! So don’t give up. Keep the long term goal in mind, that one day they WILL be able to speak your language with confidence in your country and for this they will thank you!