So you are going to have a baby or already are parents? You would like to raise your child with more than one language? Then we are in the same situation, wondering how to do that. I’m going to be a German mom with a Paraguayan husband, living – for the moment – in Berlin, Germany.
Here’s in short words what I investigated about methods to raise my child bilingual or even multilingual.
There are basically 4 different strategies you can follow but above all it’s most critical, that you have a strategy and stick to it! And then just start as early as possible, which even can include your prenatal relation with your baby (read my other article to this topic: “Prenatal language learning: Speaking to your baby during pregnancy“).
Strategy 1: One Person One Language (OPOL)
This strategy is also called “One Parent One Language” (OPOL) strategy, while a “parent” could be also a grandparent or another person that is very close to your child. It’s basically what the name says: One person speaks only one language to the child. So for example, the Mexican mother speaks only Spanish and the British father speaks only English.
Strategy 2: Minority Language at Home (ML@H).
Let’s say your family lives in Germany but you are both Turkish. So while your child will be confronted the whole day with German in kindergarten, school, play yard etc. you need to foster his or her Turkish language skills at home by speaking this minority language. If you apply this strategy you only have to make sure that your little one actually is exposed to the majority language. Having your kid at home until it goes to school without any contact to the country’s language you are living in will make it very difficult for him or her to integrate and speak both languages with the same confidence.
Strategy 3: Time and Place (T&P)
Different to the OPOL and ML@H strategy, the “Time and Place” strategy allows parents to speak more than one language to their child. So for instance the mother can speak Thai during the weekends and Chinese during the week. Or speak one language when being outside and the other one at home. Mostly this strategy is more effective if applied in school curricula or similar environments, where it comes more natural that for instance the biology class is always in that other language. Also parents need to be aware, that switching languages to specific times might be not plausible to a child that hasn’t yet understood the concept of time. But in addition to either OPOL or ML@H, this strategy can be perfect when your kid is a little bit older.
Strategy 4: Mixed Language Policy (MLP)
The MLP strategy uses the mix of languages in any circumstances – independent of person, time and place. Mostly this is applied in very big families where many family members are at least bilingual. In this setting, different languages are changed by necessity and without concept or strategy. The good thing is, that the MLP can foster the child’s ability to be more flexible and get used to very different sounds and sayings. On the other hand is also can lead to confusion, where you kid starts to mix up everything. You can see this often in border families such as for instance between Brazil and a Spanish speaking neighbour (“Portuñol”) or between the US and Mexico (“Spanglish”).
Amongst yourselves as parents you can chose whatever language you prefer. Most of the times it’s the language you are already used to speak as a couple. It’s highly important that you feel comfortable with the language so you can be authentically with it. If it’s an additional language to the ones you are already speaking to your child, even better – your little one will just grab it like this. 🙂