"It's Hard Work But It's So Worth It": Everything You Need To Know For Raising Bilingual Children

For a while now, I have wanted to bring you an expert on bilingual parenting on the Fluent Show, and here she is: Marianna du Bosq, host of the awesome Bilingual Avenue podcast, a show for parents who are raising bilingual children.

As a German native speaker who speaks English all day long, I find the prospect of bilingual parenting both daunting and fascinating.

Marianna's incredible energy shines through and she's got SO many tips. I came away with so much more knowledge about what bilingual parenting is really like, and I'm convinced you will too.

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In the interview, we'll talk about:

  • How much work do you have to put in as the "one language" parent of a bilingual kid
  • What agreements parents should set up with each other when they decide to do this
  • How to create a more immersive environment for children learning languages
  • Whether you have to hire nannies and tutors and do all the expensive things to make this work
  • How to overcome negative attitudes, and how to help a parent who feels left out when they don't understand their child
  • How to learn a language along with your child
  • What the school experience is like for Marianna's daughter who is in an English-speaking school
  • What the most popular and effective bilingual parenting models are..and which ones are not the best ones to try
  • Which episodes of Bilingual Avenue you should check out next (see below)

And most importantly, why raising a bilingual child is so worth the extra work and planning - Marianna makes a passionate case towards the end of our show so don't miss that.

Step By Step To a Bilingual Family Household

"It's hard work but it's so worth it."

Marianna has worked with many families to support their language plans, and she explains it comes down to six steps.

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What I found interesting here is how useful and great these are for adults just as much as children - exposure and need at the heart, and really combing through our routines in detail can uncover new opportunities for speaking another language in the busiest schedules.

1) Start with a vision - how much of a language do you want the child to know, and how do you want family life to look in your family?

2) Assess your surroundings - Where will you and your child be able to get exposure to both languages?

3) Consider what your child's day is like and make notes on where the exposure in each language is coming from

4) Make your kid's interactions with the less dominant language partner fun, interactive, and engaging. They should find themselves entertained and wanting to communicate in that target language.

5) Implement a period of "language time" in the day, when you and your child have fun together and only speak the language you determine. Sometimes you may have to negotiate with them, but around language exposure you're the boss.

6) Stay encouraging and praise your child for speaking the target language, even if they aren't perfect at first. Focus on modelling correct usage rather than pointing out flaws.

I really loved how Marianna emphasized the two most important principles for bilingual life as need and exposure. Just like in adult learning, we won't be able to go far without those two. Need and exposure are the key to a productive language experience, and no matter how old you are you'll benefit from planning those in your life.

"Every time I switch to English, that's a lost opportunity for a word I could have shown, taught and modelled in Spanish."

The Top 3 Models for Bilingual Parenting

Wondering how to get started? Here are the three most popular models of bilingual parenting, and according to Marianna these are the most successful.

  1. "One Person, One Language", a scenario in which each parent (or other person in the child's life, like grandparent or nanny) will choose a language and make that the core of all interactions with the child.

  2. "Minority Language at Home", a scenario in which you make your home language the language that the child isn't exposed to in the wider world. For example, a Korean-speaking family living in Germany would focus on Korean at home but German outside the home.

  3. "Language Time", which means you select pre-determined time periods and switch languages throughout your child's life. For example, as a parent you may want to speak Spanish for 3 weeks followed by 3 weeks in French.



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Are You Planning a Bilingual Family? Got a Bilingual Family Already?

I'd love to hear more about your own experiences of parenting in another language. Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter