Guide to raising bilingual kids

Bilingual parenting methods and techniques

1. Accent correction

If you want to speak to your kid in a non-native language and consider your current level enough to raise your kid, you may still be worried about your pronunciation. It is important because kids pick up the subtlest details of parents’ language. So here is a list of things to consider:

  1. Master all the sounds of the target language.
  2. Tongue twisters. When you master all the hardest tongue twisters you can consider you have mastered the language pronunciation.
  3. Exaggeration. You should pronounce the accent you are striving to achieve in a child-like teasing manner, exaggerating the major features that differ this accent from the others.
  4. Recording yourself. Due to the anatomy of human skull and perception of our actions, we hear ourselves in a different way than the others. So use the power of modern technologies and listen to yourself in the same way others have to deal with the sound of your voice.
  5. Speak slowly, learn to pronounce in a desired manner first, and then work on the speed.
  6. Read out loud. Just take a book and read it out loud. Rhymes and poems are even better. Combining it with recording your voice makes it perfect.
  7. Teacher. And of course use native speakers to give you feedback. You don’t have to pay, there are lots of people who can help you for free. You can search online, visit local international events. However, if you want professional help, you might want to consider a few sessions with a specialist.

2. Reading

It is the most important part of the bilingual education. Start from reading stories in the third trimester of pregnancy. It sounds ridiculous and I had been skeptical to it before I did my research. Babies really start listening from the third trimester, and just a day after birth they can distinguish the stories they heard in womb from the new ones. And of course, they prefer familiar. It also slightly affects the efficiency of language acquisition. So don’t feel shy or embarrassed, it feels weird just for a short time, but the results remain forever.

And don’t stop after the birth! Babies engage in adult activities so easily! The whole procedure of sitting down and reading prepares baby to future learning, develops concentration and creates a lifelong habit. Do it for ~10 minutes few times a day, depending on your babies attention span, and increase it when possible. Don’t rush to finish a book, the whole point is in the process and the only goal is baby’s enjoyment.

Important reading techniques:

  1. Repetition – repeat words as much as possible, as long as it is entertaining, to enhance memorization.
  2. Pointing – point every picture when you mention what is on it, point at the words while reading, showing a connection between text and speech.
  3. Singing – try to sing some of the passages and sentences, babies like it.
  4. Signs and gestures – imitate everything, with your hands and body, be creative.
  5. Verbal routines – use some word combinations you use often (e.g. turn over the page, point X, where is X? Show me the X), assign a certain gesture and pronunciation to it.
  6. Intonation and role-play – use different voices and intonation for different characters and situation, exaggerate.
  7. The most important is to HAVE FUN! Your kid learns emotions from you, so do what you like, experiment and enjoy every moment.

Don’t hesitate to learn ABCs even before your kid starts talking, just be very gentle and don’t push, it will create a negative attitude, which is very hard to change, and we all know how childhood issues affect our future lives. Besides books, you can also use songs, flashcards, and puzzles.

3. Baby talk

Baby talk, or parentese, it is a special way to talk to babies in many cultures. Many people say it is bad to speak with babies like this, but research states otherwise. Babies like adults speaking this way, and it is the only way for a baby to understand that the speech is directed to him/her.

Two-day-old hearing infants of deaf mothers show preference to parentese, even though they have no experience of listening to anyone’s speech. In an experiment babies watched some people speaking in an infant-directed manner, and another in a usual adult-directed speech. Then, they were shown two images – one with those adults, and one with an unfamiliar person. Infants looked longer at an image of a person, who spoke parentese, than at an image of a novel person; by contrast, after hearing a person speaking in an adult-directed manner, infants instead preferred the novel person. It obviously indicates that babies like listening to baby talk. [Link #11]

In another experiment it was proved that parentese induces word recognition and memorization in infants. [Link #12]

How to speak parentese? That’s easy, you just raise pitch, so your voice sounds higher, prolong vowels and use short consonants, but be careful and do not use it all time. Although it is barely possible still use your usual voice, with the same words you used in parentese before. Then the baby will most likely remember the word. You will feel when to stop using parentese, usually it’s soon after your baby starts speaking. After the babbling stage (around 1yo) engage in “meaningless” conversations with your baby, so he/she gets used to communication because verbal aspect is not the only one in it, sometimes even not the most important. And it’s beneficial to encourage speech. It prevents from starting to talk late, getting anxious about it and so on. And the last thing to facilitate speech development is to use dummies less.

4. Video

You should start watching them together after 18 months, commenting and explaining to your baby. [Link #14] Videos are extremely helpful, but you must realize there should be limits. The best way is to watch them together, or conducting movie parties with neighbors and their kids followed by a discussion of characters, values, morals and so on. Don’t blindly delegate parenting to it, keep your kid away from YouTube (I would recommend downloading all desired materials and watch offline), use a big screen to protect from myopia, and supervise content.

5. Nursery rhymes with fingerplays

You can use any classic nursery rhymes. And it’s better if they include some finger play, which not only develops fine motor skills, but also is more engaging to babies and creates a funny daily routine. Thus, it is very easy for kid to start doing it him/herself later. The best example here is “Eensy Weensy spider”.

6. Songs and lullabies

The best ones are those, which have a video of your choice, so that after 1.5yo you can also watch them. And also it’s very useful to use songs that involve a certain category of vocabulary, like “Head and shoulders” teach about some body parts, or numerous “ABC” songs which can also teach phonics. Some songs are “situational”, like lullabies form a reflex to fall asleep, some songs can be used to relieve pain when a baby is hurt and can’t stop crying, etc. And the most popular are songs you can dance, e.g. Mulberry Bush.

7. Commenting

It is a huge part. It is very important for language development because it creates links between speech and real life actions. There are three intuitive types of commenting – describing what you are doing, what your kid is doing, and what other people/animals/characters are doing.

Here are some ideas when you can apply this technique:

  • Watching photos and videos of their parents and kids itself – children are very sensitive when it comes to their identity and identity of their parents. This can have a more profound effect than reading a picture book. Just look through photo albums or galleries in your phone and describe/discuss them.
  • Drawing – especially good to learn colors and shapes
  • Playing toys with them – you can talk about actions and interactions
  • Talking about parts of the body while changing clothes
  • Observation walk – speaking about the environment you are in when you are not at home.
  • Correction. When they start speaking, they are likely to make language mistakes. Be careful to correct them in a right manner – just repeat what they have said with right grammar. E.g.: “Dog run” – “Oh, yes, dear, the dog is running”. As your kid learn you can start making your own mistakes to let him/her correct you.

8. Questions

Asking questions starts long before talking because babies understand you before they learn to talk and even walk. You can hold two toys and ask to point one of them, encouraging with a smile and little praise in case of a successful answer. Don’t ask too many questions, it overwhelms and stresses out kids. Follow a rule of thumb – say four statements for each question you ask and give them time to answer, dropping hints if it takes too long. Furthermore, give choices during daily routines (which shirt to wear, which food to buy in a supermarket, which game to play), showing the kid that he/she has control.

9. Games

They are an important tool that bonds parents and kids. Usually they are played no longer than 10-15 minutes, but it’s not a big deal since you will get tired much earlier than your kid. I will prepare a list of different games, both relevant internationally and just for certain cultures.