How to raise a Multilingual Child

We are Tamil folks who live in France but are native English speakers. So that’s already 3 languages in our child’s life to make sure he is able to communicate with the different people he comes in contact with on a daily basis. With the increase in 2 State couples and the breaking down of state barriers for work and other reasons, most people want to raise multilingual children today. Here are some tips to help you along.

Start early: From the very beginning, it is useful to make a distinction of how the different languages are going to be present in your child’s life. A child needs to be exposed to a language for at least 30% of his waking time in order to be able to grasp it well. That means, a very young child can learn 3-4 languages all at once at best. The most common systems used thus, are OPOL (One Parent One Language) or [email protected] (Minority Language At Home), both with good degrees of success. For instance, your child can learn English at school, Hindi from one parent and Tamil from another for starters. The key is to be consistent in the system of choice.

Temper your expectations: It is going to take the child a while to sort out the different languages and patterns of speech enough to make a distinction between them. So, till then you can expect adorable mash-ups like this one from my son – “Let’s go en voiture, Amma”, meaning lets go by car, mommy but with 3 languages interspersed. This takes a while to clear up but once your child developmentally gets there, there’s no stopping him.

Get relevant learning tools:Books, music, toys, apps, etc. are all materials that will help in establishing the relevant languages in your child’s life. Constant exposure ensures that he learns new things all the time and also uses the words and phrases already learned before. ZenParent recommendation: Multilingual books from Tulika publishers.

Playmates with similar languages: Kids tend to emulate other kids. So if your child’s playmates talk in a certain language, it’s most certainly going to help him talk it more and get confident in using his words. This is also achieved by an older sibling who’s fluent in the language and engages with the younger one during play time.

Stay patient and consistent: Sometimes, no matter what you try, the child hits a plateau – he doesn’t seem to be speaking anything new in a certain language, or decreases its use gradually over time. He isn’t grasping a language as quick as his peers and so on. Be patient and stick to your method consistently. Keep exposing him passively to the language for a period of time before requiring an active engagement on his behalf.

multilingualSignPostImage source: Google creative commons

Kids learn languages easily when they’re young.  And it helps them be better equipped for everything that life has in store for them. Raising a multilingual child is a wonderful experience for parents and a great tool for kids to have. And grandparents are happy too when their grandchildren can fluently speak to them in their native tongue.  So, it’s a win-win situation!

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