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How to raise a bilingual child (the simple way)

“Words are a pretext. It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words.” ― Rumi

Yes, Rumi may be right about words being a pretext and the inner bond drawing one another closer, but in the world that we live in, words play an important role – and the language they’re spoken in, even more so.

My daughter Manini is a few weeks shy of six years now, and while she is fluent in reading, writing and speaking English, which is actually our 2nd language, she also manages a fair amount of Hindi, which ironically, is our native language, considering that we’re Indians.

However, my husband and I are not stressing over it, nor are we losing sleep over the fact that she may never speak Hindi as fluently as she speaks English. Yet, we are still working to ensure that she does speak both the languages with an approach that is simple enough for all of us.

Speak Both Languages, at Home

We speak both Hindi and English at home. It doesn’t happen all of the time, but we’re okay with a 50-50 split.

There are days when we don’t speak a word of Hindi the entire 24 hours but then, there are also days when we watch a Hindi movie, read a book in Hindi, and speak the language as well.

So, yeah, we keep things fluid and flexible, and most importantly, natural. It works well for her and us.

Watch Movies, Sing Songs or Read Books in Both the Languages

Books, movies, and music are all HUGE fun and at the same time, great ways to learn a language and use it.

Based on your child’s natural inclination, I’d recommend making at least one or two of these a part of your regular quota of fun things to do. We do all three since it comes easily enough.

You can choose whatever works best for you. It’s just a fun way to assimilate and use a language.

Decide on the Level of Fluency You’d Be Comfortable with

Early on, my husband and I’d decided that we’d want Manini to be absolutely fluent in English reading, writing, and speaking, and have an passable grasp of Hindi speaking, reading, and writing, in that order.

Our reasons were simple. In urban India, there isn’t a need for Hindi reading and writing, and pretty much everyone speaks some amount of English, so as long as she has a fair grasp of her parent language, we’re good.

Be Patient and Prepared to Answer a LOT of Questions

A lot of questions from the kids. Yes, we answer an endless round of “What does {insert word} mean?” each time we sing a song in Hindi, read a book, or watch a movie. It does get tiring and tough, and there are times when we want to just watch/read/sing instead of playing twenty {thousand} questions, but it’s a choice we’ve made to raise a bilingual child and so, answer we must.

Keep it Simple, Sweetie

Finally, keeping it real, keeping it simple and keeping it easy for everyone makes this whole bilingual baby thing a long-term thing that evolves as we do. It is our hope to introduce a third language to Manini once we’re all ready for it, and yes, our approach will still be the same. Simple.

Are you raising bilingual children? How have you made it easy for your family?

A note from Tsh: Heads up, Atlanta—we’ve rescheduled! Can’t wait to meet up with you tomorrow night, February 14. Come join me at FoxTale Book Shoppe at 6:30 p.m. Books will be on sale, and we’ll have wine, appetizers, and a valentine-making station. The ice is supposed to have thawed by then, but just in case, be sure to follow me on Twitter, in case plans change. Again. Thanks for flexing with me! It’ll be great to de-cabin fever, won’t it?

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