8 Mistakes Parents Make When Raising Bilingual Children
When I first started teaching my kids French, I made a bunch of mistakes.
Which is kinda expected because hey, I didn’t really know what I was doing back then... and I also wasn’t a native speaker.
All I really knew at the time was this:
I want to give my kids the amazing life skills that come with learning a second language at a young age!
I had fails and I had wins. I had good days where I was thrilled about the progress my kids were making and days of despondency when I felt like a big failure. What the heck was I doing?!
Today I want to share with you some common mistakes that parents make when raising bilingual kids. My hope is these ‘what not to do’ tips will help your experience as a language teaching mama be the best it can be!
Not giving them enough exposure to the native sounds and accents
This is a big one for non-native speaking parents who are raising bilingual kids.
Reading and speaking with your children is great but if you don’t have the native tongue, you need to make sure they’re exposed to sounds in a different way.
Videos, audio lessons, and songs by native speakers are perfect for this. They allow your child to pick up the sounds and accents of different words. You could also hire a native speaking tutor to give lessons or call in the help of a friend or family member who is fluent in the language.
Using a *YAWN* approach to language lessons
Sorry to say mama, but if your lessons aren’t fun, the kids aren’t gonna be too buzzed to get involved!
It’s pretty clear I’m super passionate about teaching children a second language...but I think it’s a mistake to take it So.Super.Seriously.
One of the best things about this whole language learning journey is that it can be (and should be) FUN FUN FUN!
There are so many creative, enjoyable ways to teach your child a second language.
Unstructured play is a super effective way for kids to learn, plus there are videos, music and dance, books, and not to mention all the fun outings you could dream up.
You’ll see better and quicker results if you don’t make lesson time a boring chore!
Letting other people’s opinions get to you
There’s always going to be someone (or a few someone’s!) who has a not so supportive opinion or advice about what you’re trying to accomplish with your kids
If your child is really young, they might tell you that you’ll irreversibly mess with your child’s language development of their first language. Which simply isn’t true.
Or even say, “What’s the point? Why bother? Just sound like a lot of extra work!”
It’s a mistake to let this unsupportive noise get stuck in your head. Ironically, most naysayers usually give uninformed opinions, and as the old saying goes, opinions are the cheapest commodities on earth.
You’ve done your research, you know the incredible benefits of teaching your child a second language, so just keep truckin’ mama. Blaze your own trail and who knows, you might even inspire some friends and family to do the same for their kids along the way!
Not being flexible
For us mums, no two days are alike! While it’s absolutely important to have a consistent learning routine and plan, you’ve gotta stay flexible too.
A looser lesson structure can accommodate your child’s natural curiosity and let their thoughts and discussions play out organically.
If you rigidly enforce the idea you have for the lesson, you’ll lose some of the magic of just letting your child’s curiosity unfold and potentially hinder their learning.
This is also about keeping you sane and on track mama! If you’re too set on sticking to your exact lesson routine, on days when it isn’t possible, you’ll find yourself frustrated.
Too much of this and you’ll likely to beat yourself up then eventually let the whole thing slide because you felt like it just wasn’t working.
Believing it will happen automatically
This is a mistake some native speaking parents make.
If your child is exposed to two languages at home, say French and English, because you speak both fluently, it’s not necessarily the case that she can learn completely by osmosis.
Native speaking parents still need to put in the work to create activities and lessons to specifically teach the second language.
If learning is passive - a child only hears a second language - they’ll probably grow up to understand what is being said in the second language, but not actually speak it.
This is known as passive bilingualism, and hey, if that is the language goal you set for your child, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! Just know that if you want your child to speak the language or even become fluent then you’ll need to put in the work.
Thinking slow progress is a sign to give up
“It’s slow progress, but quitting won’t make it any faster.”
I feel so sad when mamas tell me that they tried but the results just weren’t happening fast enough. They thought because progress was really slow that they were doing something wrong and gave up.
Please don’t make this mistake! Progress is progress. Teaching your child a second language is teaching them a massive life skill. It won’t happen overnight and every child will move forward at a different pace.
Pulling your child up on every mistake
Overcorrecting your child during the process is something to be careful of.
If they’re making the same mistake over and over again, it’s definitely something to address but don’t nit-pick on every small error. Sometimes we just need to skip past the mistake and wait to bring it up at a later stage so the flow of chatter isn’t interrupted
Correcting them every time will only make them self-conscious and dampen enthusiasm - lessons will become a source of frustration rather than fun.
Our kids are more likely to improve when we focus on reinforcing what they've done right and celebrating their progress. Cheer their efforts on to keep them inspired to keep striving.
Forgetting why you started
Teaching your child a new language is a big undertaking and like any worthwhile goal, there’s gonna be times you want to give up - like the slow progress situation I mentioned above.
When you feel a lull in enthusiasm you need to remind yourself WHY you started this whole second language shebang in the first place.
Write down all incredible benefits and life skills you’re helping your child develop, from boosting cognitive skills and fostering creativity to improved concentration and focus, it’s clear bilingual kids really do reap big benefits. The hard work is worth it mama, I promise!
Finding a community, online or offline, of other mamas going after the same language goals for their kids can be a real boost to your motivation too.