How Can Parents Support Multilingual Children?
Updated: May 17
As a parent teaching their child multiple languages, it can seem difficult to know how to successfully teach two or more languages in a way you can give each language equal dedication.
Because we know that sometimes what you need is somewhere to start, we put together a list below of tips to help your child thrive in learning their heritage language:
Infants to Age 3
Use rhymes, songs, and actions to teach the child about language.
Read books in their heritage language.
Talk to the child throughout the day, describing what you are doing.
Ages 3 to 5
Use a variety of words in each language the child is learning.
Ask the child to tell you stories in the languages they are learning.
Give them access to books, music, poems, and alphabet books in their target language.
Do crafts together where instructions are given solely in the target language.
A great source to help guide you is the US’s Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC). They have put together ways to help children effectively be dual or multilingual.
The Australian Parenting Website advises parents to stick to their heritage language, regardless of pressure to speak English only. Additionally, they recommend parents teach their children the significance and benefits of being multilingual with their heritage language.
Ages 5 and Up
Enjoy watching sports, movies, and other media in the target language.
Find child and teen safe online communities where they can practice their skills.
Teach the child skills such as cooking using recipes in the target language.
Participate in playgroups that encourage the child to speak in the heritage language.
Get creative and make a word caterpillar in the child’s room that grows as the child learns new words in the heritage language.
At Any Age
Invite grandparents or family members who are fluent in the heritage language to help give the child an immersive experience wherein they only speak the heritage language to the child.
Take the child to stores and restaurants where the staff speaks the target language and encourage them to order food or ask questions in the heritage language.
Plan a trip, when possible, to the country where the language is native.
Encourage the child to communicate with family or friends that are overseas.
Practical Ways to Manage Language Learning
All children learn at a different level, just as adults do. For some children learning more than one language comes easy, and for others, it takes a little more work; there is nothing wrong with that. Don’t let it discourage you or them in the learning process, however frustrating it may be.
Some additional ways to support your child and help them learn is for one parent not to speak English to the child and the other parent to only speak English. This method is called the “one parent-one language” approach.
Kids New to Canada also suggest what they call the “one place-one language” and “one activity-one language.” The former teaching approach requires English to be spoken only at school, and for the target language to be spoken only at home. With one activity-one language approach, only one language is spoken while doing specific tasks, such as dinner, bath time, clean up, etc.
Lastly, know that there are resources for you and that you don’t have to do it alone. Language schools like Panda Mandarin will help guide you in the learning process. You can also find resources online and through the government. With patience and support, your child will be successful.