I was chatting with my 6-year-old daughter about how she tackles big projects. She’s recently completed a few 1000-piece puzzles and cardboard crafts, and her insight was so relevant to life in general. Her reply inspired me to apply this advice to bilingual parenting, a daunting task that most of you have taken on!
I’ve combined our thoughts into 7 tips for tackling intense challenges like raising multilingual children.
7 Tips for Tackling Challenges in Bilingual Parenting
More tried-and-true advice for raising bilingual children:
- 10+ Ways to Find a Foreign Language Teacher for Your Child
- Raising Trilingual Children as a Non-Fluent Parent: 8 Lessons Learned
- How A Dictation Journal Improves Speaking, Reading, and Writing (VIDEO)
1. Bilingual parenting – look at the big picture
The first step is to consider the long game of bilingual parenting and weigh the pros and cons.
- What inspires you to raise bilingual children?
- What are the downsides for teaching a second language at home?
- Can the pros outweigh the cons?
If you live in a monolingual community with little support, raising bilingual children can be incredibly daunting.
The benefits need to be strong enough to motivate and carry you through the difficult days.
2. Create a space – physically and mentally – for the endeavor
A good foundation starts with preparing ourselves and our homes to support the goal of raising bilingual children.
Important questions to discuss with your spouse include:
- Can you overcome negative associations, such as the risk of racism and discrimination toward Asian languages?
- Do you have time to add another language in your life now or should you wait until later? If you’re not fluent, you’ll need to devote some time to improve your speaking fluency in the minority language.
- Do you have the budget to invest in educational resources, such as Chinese children’s books and tutoring sessions?
- Can you create a print-rich environment with labels, signs, and artwork?
- What distractions can you eliminate? This may mean simplifying the schedule (to make more time for the minority language) and getting rid of clutter (eg, talking English toys).
3. Organize your bilingual parenting resources
For bilingual parenting, this means books, music, and other media in the minority languages are visible and accessible for both kids and parents.
Since most of us are very busy, look for ways to improve efficiency, such as listening to audiobooks during car rides.
4. One step at a time
After getting yourself and your home ready with bilingual resources, focus on one step at a time.
Set small, reasonable goals in your daily to-do list, such as:
- Learn how to say _________.
- Read _____ book.
- Sing ______ song.
For bilingual parenting, I did not start with the goal of fluency. Speaking and reading Chinese fluently initially seemed so impossible and far away.
After hitting first milestones, gradually set higher goals.
When I talked to my daughter, she said that she never looks at the puzzle box cover again after choosing it. She literally just focuses on finding the next piece!
4. Take breaks to refresh and refuel
We all know it’s too easy to burn out and need self-care to refresh and refuel!
For non-fluent parents who are learning language with their kids, take the night off from studying if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
On a regular basis, make sure you’re getting exercise and sunshine to nourish yourself and build endurance in other ways!
5. Know when to ask for help with bilingual parenting
Don’t hesitate to ask for help when you’re feeling stuck about translations, buying books, and teaching tips!
If you’re concerned about your child’s development, be sure to talk to their pediatrician and teachers for reassurance or referrals to specialists who can help with speech and fine motor skills.
If you have relatives and friends who share the language you’re working on with your kids, be sure to invite them on your journey.
On the other hand, if you’re on a language island like myself where there’s no diversity, online support has been helpful. Know that we’re always here cheer you on! 🙂
And if you’re religious like us, prayer and bible verses are daily sources of strength.
6. Bilingual parenting requires extra patience and perseverance
Progress takes time, patience, practice, and perseverance.
Through these challenges, we grow and connect with our children, our family, and other friends working toward similar goals.
Most good things don’t magically happen overnight – enjoy the journey!
What tips help you tackle big challenges?
What helps you overcome challenging days? What else would you add to this list?
Please feel free to share in the comments below.