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The Art of Encouragement – Eye-opening advice on bringing up a Bilingual Child

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way!”

Frank Smith

Bringing up a bilingual child and the journey to bilingualism or indeed multilingualism can be so much fun if you are encouraged to embrace the languages offered to you. It is not always about being perfect, in fact on the contrary I have learnt over the past 30 years that looking for perfection in bilingualism is almost always, the wrong way.

Sometimes it is just nice to be told you are doing ok when you are trying to bring your child up bilingually, or indeed when you are the bilingual child trying to master more than one language. Silent encouragement, positive words of reassurance and emotionally embracing your child´s efforts are all so important to their development.

Bringing up a bilingual child
Here are my Top 5 tips and tricks to encourage your child to excel in their minority language:

1 – Create a need for the minority language to encourage bilingualism. This could be a simple thing like always reading the bedtime story in the minority language or introducing a favorite card or board game in the minority language. It is important to read out loud and to be as expressive as you can whilst reading. Reading can be so much fun and creating a world special to you and your child in a language you share can be really magical. My children and I used to stop half way through a story and make up our own endings before reading what the ending really was. This way, I not only encouraged the use of language in its “real” form as they heard it, I also encouraged their imagination to use the minority language while they were thinking of words they could use to finish the story. Often this led to the children mixing the languages, this is OK too, just make sure you stay in one language whilst offering it, your child will follow in his/her own time. You could also make some of your stories bilingual by giving a short summary in the first language and then the whole story in the minority language. AN example of this can be seen in my bilingual books with Robby and his may adventures.

2 – Make using the minority language great fun, this way being bilingual becomes great fun. This is a great way of additionally introducing your child to the culture behind the language. You could prepare meals traditionally known in the country where the minority language is spoken and speak the language while cooking, then while at the table too, because it is for example a “Spanish” meal. Sing some songs that are really catchy and that stay in your head all day.

3 – Introduce a puppet to speak the minority language. This will give the minority language a face in your child´s play world. This can then develop into an imaginary friend as the child grows older and then a “real” pen friend or family member e.g. a grandparent or an aunt or cousin, when the child is old enough to communicate independently. For an example of how to do this effectively you can take a look at my hand puppet “Robby,” who I use to introduce English as a second language to young learners.

For more information on Robby go to

4 – Make “one to one” time in the minority language special and a priority, this will encourage your child to take part and becoming bilingual will also become special.  If you want to encourage your bilingual child to use and understand a minority language you are going to have to put in some effort. Basically, you are the one offering the language and that is your only job. However, you have to do this frequently and you have to make it as qualitative as possible. The best way to do this, is on a one to one basis, that way you and your child can stay focused on the task in hand. You can do all sorts of activities like playing games, walking in nature, cooking, watching a film, writing a letter or drawing a picture for a relative that shares the same minority language. The most important thing is to constantly talk as you are doing what you are doing, use the language as much as you possibly can, not only in speech, be expressive, use body language make gestures etc. Always be sure to positively encourage your child for any interaction they do, try to keep it natural this way your child gets a positive feedback whilst always feeling like it is normal for hin/her to use this language too.

5 – Make the language real for your child. The easiest and most effective way of doing this is of course to interact with family and friends who still live in the country of your spoken minority language. By doing this you add a strong emotion to the minority language because the child associates the use of the language with a positive emotion created by the positive effect of loving relationships between friends and families.

For more information on bringing up your child bilingually take a look at the amazing resources available on the PEaCH website whose aim it is to support parents and educators of bilingual children.This resourceful website is available in 6 European languages and it has an abundance of free material for both parents and educators to support them on their journey to bilingualism.

PEaCH for bilingual children