Raising a child to be bilingual can be an intimidating task, particularly if you’re not fluent in the second language.

Many parents are fearful of incorrectly pronouncing the vocabulary, or not being able to speak in the proper sentence structure and choose to hold off introducing a language until the child is old enough to go to school. The only problem with this approach is that the best time to teach a language is before the age of 7 when a child’s brain is hardwired to learn one, or two or more languages!

If this sounds a little like where you’re at, rest assured, you’re not alone. There are many barriers that can stop you from taking your first step, particularly if you are a monolingual family. Here are a few tips to help you take the leap and introduce a second language today.

  • Start Slowly.

Taking this approach is best, particularly if you haven’t introduced a language before, plus it will be fantastic for your confidence to get some wins under your belt at the same time. You don’t want to surprise your child with sudden changes. Why not set aside a particular day of the week to run mini-lessons or go shopping with your child and purchase a new bilingual book? Remember baby steps will still take you to your end goal.

  • Have Fun!

Kids learn best when they’re having fun so don’t take your ‘lessons’ too seriously. The goal when starting out is to develop a love of learning and for your child to WANT to engage in your lessons. Find ways to engage your child in games that reinforce particular vocabulary.

  • Don’t Translate.

It can be tempting to translate every word you’re introducing into English (or your majority language). While this may help your transition as you start to introduce more new words, your goal should be to focus on teaching a language through immersion – showing your child the context of the word rather than adding an additional step through translation.

  • Set Aside Regular Lesson Times.

Lesson routines are incredibly important when teaching a language. Plan your lessons around times when you’re going to be relaxed and are able to not only give your child your full attention, but you’ll have time to stop and explain any questions you might have along the way. I particularly love beginning and ending my lessons, with regular ‘hello’ songs that remind my kids that the lesson has started. Having a number of repeated tasks that your kids will become familiar with (ie songs, art, reading a book etc) will help them as you progress each week throughout your engaging language lessons.

  • Read Books in the Target Language.

Books are a fantastic tool to use when teaching your child a new language. There are plenty of bilingual books sold through sites like Amazon. Don’t worry so much if your pronunciation isn’t perfect. This can be improved on as your child grows up. This is just one of many ways to engage your child in their target language. Keep the books fun and simple. Some of my kids favourite bilingual books are ones that they have read before in English. Books like Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar are sold in a variety of languages, so start there as they are already very familiar to your child.

  • Encourage your Child to Respond in the Target Language.

It’s important that you require you engage your child and have them speak back to you during your language lessons. If your child only hears you speak to them in the target language but never responds, there is a danger that they will become passive bilingual and their ability to communicate back will be limited.

  • Surround Yourself with Native Speakers

You can’t do it on your own! If you’re not a native speaker of the target language, your ability to teach your child to be fluent in a language will be limited. Don’t waste your time worrying about what you don’t have and look around in your local community to see what you do have. Do you have friends who speak the language who can come around once a week and chat with your child? Do you have access to a native speaking nanny or babysitter who can increase your child’s exposure to the language? Do you have local language playgroups you could check out? It truly takes a village to raise a child bilingually, so look around and you might be surprised at the level of support you have in your neighborhood.

  • Just Keep Going!

You’re going to have days when you want to quit. When your child doesn’t want to speak back to you and it all just seems too hard. My greatest encouragement to you is to just keep going. Every investment in your child’s language education is highly valuable and I promise you, you will never regret teaching a language to your child.

For additional tips on how you can teach your preschooler a second language at home, check this short video out:


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