How to Raise a Bilingual Child
“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.
My daughter Manini is a few weeks shy of six years now, and while she’s fluent in reading, writing and speaking English (which is actually our second 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 aren’t stressing over it, nor are we losing sleep that she may never speak Hindi as fluently as she speaks English. Yet we’re still working toward her speaking both our languages with a simple-approach approach 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 days when we watch a Hindi movie, read a book in Hindi, and speak Hindi at home as well.
So, yeah, we keep things fluid and flexible, and most important, 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, thankfully, great ways to learn a language.
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.
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 endless rounds of “What does [insert word] mean?” every time we sing a song, read a book, or watch a movie in Hindi. 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, we’ve made the choice to raise a bilingual child and so, answer we must.
Keep it Simple, Sweetie
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. We hope to introduce a third language to Manini once we’re all ready for it, and yep, our approach will still be the same. Simple.
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