Bilingual child

5 Ways To Support Your Child’s Language Learning At Home (And Ensure Success!)

The benefits of language learning are well documented, and with the rise of bilingual schools in the UK there are more opportunities than ever for children to learn languages from a young age. From September 2014, all schools in England will be required to teach a foreign language to children aged 7-11. Make sure you know how your child’s school is planning this, and start thinking ahead to ensure you are ready to support your child on such a special journey.


  1. Make time

The precursor to all the following points! The road to bilingualism and / or language competence is a long one – it requires an investment of time and effort – but what better to invest it in than your own child? Language learning no longer needs to be a difficult skill learned at school but forgotten post-16. We are now raising language learners for life – citizens of the world – with language skills that will be of benefit long into the future. Let’s take the time now to set up our children for life.


  1. Be positive

Don’t expect too much too soon, but prepare to be astounded when your child starts to fly! Talk to your child about what they are learning in their language lessons. If you are also a competent speaker of the language then find opportunities to bring the learning points into your daily lives at home. If not, then you can make a difference by showing you are interested, being supportive and praising their efforts!


  1. Travel

Be prepared to set aside holiday time to visit the country your child is learning about – they will need exposure to the language in as many natural situations as possible, and chances to interact with native speakers in a variety of contexts. Cultural awareness is also hugely important, so get involved as a family in food, celebrations, art, architecture, entertainment etc. during your stay. Extend your child’s learning outside the classroom and you’ll not only see a huge difference in their language learning, but also in their enthusiasm for learning.


  1. Enrich your environment

Surround yourself with language and culture at home. The Bilingual Bookshop has a huge selection of books and games for children learning languages, and is happy to advise on products that would suit your particular situation. Download an app for one of the country’s radio stations, display photos of holidays to the country, bring home souvenirs to have in your home. Any way you can bring physical reminders of the country into your home will help your child to feel they are part of it.


  1. Seek role models and be one yourself

Role models can provide inspiration and an excellent example to your child. From children in the park on holiday to sportsmen and women in televised championships, from film and music stars to penfriends, other families or a new babysitter – be aware of opportunities to highlight and interact with other language speakers in your family’s daily life. If you don’t speak the language, why not enrol in classes yourself – learn alongside your child so you can share in their journey. Ensure that you take up opportunities to inspire and support your child at every step and you’ll be on the road to success!


Good luck!


Photo courtesy of imagerymajestic /

Guest post: Can you help the UK Bilingual Toddlers Project?

The Bilingual Bookshop has partnered with the UK Bilingual Toddlers Project – an exciting research project and joint collaboration between universities in Plymouth, Liverpool, Bangor, Kent, Oxford and Birmingham  – whose aim is to find out just how bilingual children learn language.

Samantha Durrant, Research Assistant at the Plymouth BabyLab has written this guest post to explain a little more about their research and how YOUR bilingual family can help in the study. You and your little one can take part by signing up here.

Raising your child bilingually is a great gift and benefits children in many ways, lots of which we, as researchers, are only just discovering. Yet it is very likely that you, as parents of bilingual toddlers, have heard many times that ‘Your child will be a little delayed because they are bilingual’ or had bilingualism used as an explanation for any questions you might have about your child’s language development.

Of course we are aware that bilingual children do talk a little later than their monolingual peers, and we are aware that they often know fewer words in each language than children learning only one language. Are we surprised by this? No, not really. What these children are doing is learning at least two (sometimes more) languages at the same time. They have to learn that every object they see and everything they do has at least two names and they have to learn the morphology (in English this is when –s is added to words to mean more than one) and the grammar of both of these languages, all at the same time as learning to walk, to run, to climb, to draw etc. And bilingual children do all of this, without any direct ‘teaching’ of either language, simply by being immersed in a bilingual environment. As an adult the same task is a real challenge, but bilingual children just do it.

But what about when a parent of a bilingual child feels there is something wrong that goes over and above the fact that their child is learning two languages? Bilingual children are not immune to having the same difficulties with language as monolingual children but because there is little information available about what is typical in the development of bilingual children, these children having difficulties with languages can slip through the net until much later.

What can we do about it?

Here at Plymouth University, in collaboration with universities across the UK – Bangor, Birmingham, Kent, Liverpool and Oxford, we are collecting information from bilingual families to develop an idea of what is ‘normal’ language development for a bilingual child. We are doing this by asking parents of bilingual children who are about to have or have just had their second birthday to fill out a word list in each of the child’s languages. We can then use this information to create a snap shot of how many words bilingual children know at this age. In addition to these word lists we are also asking some questions that will allow us to work out how much of each language the child hears: we would not expect a child who only hears English for 10% of the time to know as many words as they do in their other language. We are also asking some questions about the family life of the child, who they live with, and some questions about their parents etc to ensure that the information we end up with is applicable to children in all sorts of family situations.

The ultimate goal of this project is that this information can be used by healthcare professionals and speech therapists to identify bilingual children who are in need of extra support and implement interventions early.

How can you help?

To do this we need lots of help from bilingual families from all over the UK, from all backgrounds and languages. You can sign up to our website and then when your child approaches their second birthday we will be in touch for you to begin completing the questionnaires. If you have any questions about the study you can get in touch with us at We also have a Facebook page where you can get more information about the project.

Bilingual Family

Getting The Balance Right: 9 Ways To Boost The Minority Language

It is always important to us that we try to strike the best balance possible between the languages our children are exposed to at home. With me being at home with them the most, English is definitely the ‘majority’ language, and therefore we try to make the most of every minute that Papi is home to immerse everyone in Spanish. Here are some tips we hope will help others to get the language balance right in their homes:

  1. Bilingual Bathtime

For those parents who get home in time for bathtime, it’s a great time to take over childcare. Not only does your partner get a well earned rest, but you can immerse your child (excuse the pun!) in some valuable language learning. More info on Bilingual Bathtime to come!

2. Bilingual Bedtime

Again, a great time for the minority-language parent to take over. Bedtime routines are full of opportunities for talk: discussing what happened during the day and, of course, bedtime stories. Perfect for language learning! More info on Bilingual Bedtime in the pipeline too!

3. Use audio CDs at bedtime and naptimes
If the minorty-language parent isn’t around at bedtime, use audiobooks in the target language so your child can relax before falling asleep. For younger babies, Lullaby CDs would be perfect.

4. Watch a DVD to wind down before bed
Too much TV is discouraged, but the value of DVDs in the minority-language is immense. Choose current programmes that feature typical characters from the other country for a bicultural experience.

5. Play songs and nursery rhymes in the car and sing, sing, sing!
A great way to keep children occupied on any journey, action songs, nursery rhymes or even current hits in the minority-language are great for adding some extra language exposure. We have some lovely ones available at The Bilingual Bookshop so why not get your hands on one now?

6. Internet radio
In the UK, internet radios are now widely available and a great resource for bringing the minority language into the home. Alternatively, listen via the web on your computer or smartphone, or download an app that has preinstalled world radio channels.

7. Reach out to relatives
Use the wonders of Skype to get in touch with relatives abroad for some valuable language immersion. Use your laptop or a smartphone app if your little one doesn’t like sitting still for long – then you are not limited to having to sit at the computer. And summer holidays are much cheaper if you can stay with them!

8. Saturday morning immersion
If one of you spends less time with the kids than the other due to work commitments, Saturday mornings are a great time for some language immersion. Otherwise known as ‘me time’ for one parent, and ‘spending time with the kids’ for the other!

9. Seek out local playgroups
It can be difficult to find local playgroups using the target language, but where they do exist they provide an invaluable resource for the community! Check with your local Children’s Centre to see if they know of, or run any, and if one doesn’t exist near you, how about setting one up?



Image courtesy of photostock /

bilingual baby name

6 Tips on Choosing A Name For Your Bilingual Baby

Whether it’s a last minute decision or its planned well in advance, choosing a name for your beautiful bundle is an exciting but important decision…and one that will stick with them for the rest of their lives! However, for bilingual families, choosing a name requires double the consideration as a name that works well in one language could be a disaster in another!

Here are 6 tips to help you make that all important decision:

1.    Do you want your child’s name to be the same in both languages or do you feel it’s valuable that they grow up understanding name differences (e.g. “In English I’m John, in French I’m Jean”)?

2.    Are there some sounds in either language that you want to avoid due to the difficulty pronouncing them in the other? We deliberately avoided the letter ‘j’ or ‘c’ when choosing our daughter’s name as they are pronounced very differently in English and Spanish. Make it easy on them!

3.    Are you and your family well settled or might you move country at some point? In either case, it’s worth remembering that your child will need to give and spell their full name countless times, especially over the phone. It’s a good idea to make their lives as simple as possible in this sense! In the UK I always have to spell ‘Sánchez’, but unfortunately I always need to spell ‘Cheryl’ too as it is often misunderstood on the telephone (Shirley, Michelle, Sharon…) – even an English name can be difficult on the phone.

As a bilingual family, you may already have a surname stemming from your native country. This automatically gives rise to challenges when giving your name in the host country. It’s a good idea, then, to stick to a first name that is easy to pronounce and spell in order to avoid further difficulty.  On the other hand, if your surname is common in the host country – easily pronounced with a simple spelling – then perhaps you’d like to be more adventurous with a first name in order to reflect the other culture?

4.    Some parents like to take the opportunity to reflect something or someone from their native culture in their child’s name. This can be a valuable learning opportunity as your child grows up.

5.    Check that the name you choose does not have negative connotations in the other language, especially if it is pronounced wrong. Check that initials work well together and don’t spell anything ‘unsuitable’ in either language. My husband vetoed the name ‘Toby’ for our boy’s name as he was convinced it sounded like a name you would give a dog in Spain!

6.    Remember also, that although a name may sound appropriate, it may be quite dated and old-fashioned. Is it a suitable name for a child of this generation? Using a dated name is currently quite fashionable in the UK, but it can seriously damage ‘street cred’ if you get it wrong!

If you and your partner speak different languages, the above tips should help you to decide on a name between you, but if you both speak a different language to that of the host country you may need to do a little research. In either case, I hope the tips help a little on the way to making sure the name you choose sets your child up for a strong and happy future! Good luck!


Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography /

Happy bilingual baby

5 reasons to bring up your child bilingually

Five great reasons to keep persevering if the going gets tough!

1.    Languages for the future
Knowing two languages will get you ahead. There is no denying that if your children speak more than one language when entering the world of work they will have a significant advantage. Languages are needed by many fields of work: whatever career your child is hoping for, there will be plenty of employers within that field who need someone with language skills.

2.    Pass on skills and knowledge to your children
Many parents take great pleasure and a real sense of satisfaction in passing on a skill to their children. For many, it’s that proud feeling that their child is following in their footsteps that keeps them working hard to develop their child’s language skills.

3.    Language learning improves general communication skills
Those with a thorough knowledge of language are able to form valuable relationships with people, whether it’s the man in the corner shop, the lady at the bus stop, or when speaking at a conference to an audience of hundreds. Those skilled at language can better read people’s reactions and body language, can respond with empathy and humour and can express themselves clearly without leading to misunderstanding.

4.    Understanding of a different culture: appreciation and tolerance
Children brought up in a bilingual environment often grow within a bicultural environment at the same time. Learning within two cultures broadens the mind and encourages appreciation and tolerance of those different to ourselves. Those who are sensitive and tuned in to the cultures of others are better equipped to develop valuable relationships in all aspects of life, and these skills, coupled with those outlined in point three, are truly wonderful gifts you can give your child as a bilingual family.

5.    Encourage global perspectives
Through learning two languages bilingual children are encouraged to extend their knowledge and understanding of the world, leading to the development of truly global perspectives. All the points above come together to reassure us of one thing: that by encouraging our children on their bilingual journey we are helping to give them the best possible start to life as the first step to a successful and happy future.


Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield /

Fiona Barry’s Top Tips For Talking

Speech and Language Therapist, Fiona Barry, from Talking Tips for Kids shares her 5 top tips for parents to help boost their child’s talking skills. Of course  – these tips are helpful for all children – not just those lucky enough to be raised as bilingual! Take a look at the video link to explain these tips in a little more detail:

1. Tune In

Your child needs you to get down onto their level and really focus on how they’re communicating with you. Spend time playing together and follow their lead – this means letting them play how they want to and waiting to be invited into the play – rather than you taking over!

2. Speak Up

Once you’ve tuned into your child’s way of communicating add words and sentences into the play so they can learn this from you. Make comments about what your child is doing and try to avoid asking lots of questions. Find time to talk during the day wherever and whenever you can.

3. Love Books, Love Learning

Make book sharing part of your everyday routine – books don’t need to be just for bedtime. All the current research tells us that parents need to nurture a love of reading in their children so that they grow up to become good readers and writers. Sharing books is a great way to boost your child’s language skills.

4. Songs For Today, Words For Life

Sharing songs and rhymes with your child even from birth really paves the way for good foundations in reading, writing and talking skills. Songs are perfect for teaching new words and concepts because they have a predictable and rhythmic structure which make them easy for children to join in with. They’re also a great way to soothe a tired or angry little one!

5. Listening Comes First

Children need good attention and listening skills so that they can tune into the language around them and learn to be good conversation partners. It’s not all about the talking! Be a good role model and listen to your child – this will help them understand what being a ‘good listener’ is all about. Remember – good listening skills are essential for classroom readiness.

Find out more about Fiona, and hear more of her Talking Tips for Kids, on her website,

Bilingual Is Best: Guest Article By Fiona Barry

We asked Speech and Language Therapist Fiona Barry from Talking Tips for Kids to give us her perspective on bilingualism and to share her tips for encouraging great communication skills in bilingual children:

I’m lucky enough to work in an area which has a high proportion of bilingual children.  It never ceases to amaze me when I hear a little one switching fluently from one language to another as they adapt their language to fit the situation, listener or mood (a process known as ‘code-switching’).  I truly envy the way they’ve been given the chance to literally ‘soak up’ the languages around them.

Oh how I struggled with the intricacies of French grammar at school, but now all that vocabulary and grammar knowledge seems to have vanished! The trouble is that I was exposed to this second language too late to learn it easily and fluently. A recent study (1) by Dr Jonathan O’Muircheartaigh from King’s College London, which looked at scan images of toddlers brains, seems to back up what we have long thought. Young children have the ability to learn multiple languages with enviable ease – their brains are more flexible and adapted for leaning when young. As a child gets older this flexibility decreases and learning a new language becomes more difficult. The study suggests that bringing a child up in a bilingual environment before the age of four gives them the best chance of being proficient and fluent users of both languages.

But of course, as a speech and language therapist, I get involved with children where the process of learning language has broken down or is delayed for some reason. If I had a penny for every time a parent or teacher blamed a child’s bilingualism for their communication difficulty I’d be rich! Very often people assume that if a child is exposed to more than one language this will ‘confuse’ them or somehow delay their talking. This of course is simply not true. There is currently no evidence at all to suggest that being exposed to more than one language causes a child to have communication difficulties.  If a child has difficulties with language they would have these difficulties whether they were monolingual or multilingual learning several languages at once.

In fact – bilingual children experience a whole range of benefits which monolingual children miss out on. There are cognitive and thinking benefits – bilingual children’s brains are used to having more than one word stored for every item or idea. For this reason it’s thought that they’re able to think more flexibly and creatively as the link between words and their meanings are looser and less rigid. In fact a recent study (2) published in The Journal of Bilingualism suggested that bilingual children outperform monolingual children in tasks of problem –solving and creative thinking. It’s thought that bilingual children are better able to filter out less useful information and focus on what’s important during tasks due to their ability to switch form thinking in one language to another.

Bilingual children also tend to have a better grasp of how language works in general – its rules and structures. This can give them the edge over monolingual children when it comes to learning to read and write especially when relating the written symbol to the spoken sound.

Of course there are some really important social and emotional advantages for bilingual children too. A child who is raised with the stories, traditions and practices of more than one culture is more likely to grow up as an adult who tolerates and respects others. Also, for a child to bond with their parents and wider family they need to learn their first words in the home language. Parents need to talk to their child in the language they feel most comfortable with – this allows for spontaneous and loving interactions – which is how children learn language.

I’ve put together 5 top tips for parents to help boost their child’s talking skills – and of course – these tips are helpful for all children – not just those lucky enough to be raised as bilingual! Read the tips here, and take a look at my video to explain them in a little more detail.

Fiona’s references:

1) O’Muircheartaigh et al, 2013, ‘Interactions between White Matter Asymmetry and Language during Neurodevelopment’, The Journal of Neuroscience, October 9, 2013 33(41):16170 –16177

2) Fraser et al, 2013, ‘Bilingualism in Sardinia and Scotland: Exploring the cognitive benefits of speaking a ‘minority’ language’, The Journal of Bilingualism, International Journal of Bilingualism February 2013 vol. 17 no. 1 43-56

Bilingual Baby

Your Bilingual Family’s Approach: Tips On Planning For The Future Of Your Bilingual Children

If you are planning a family, or have a little one on the way, it can be very useful to spend time thinking about the bilingual approach you hope to take. It is a great time to start planning because a) you have more time to think and dream of what you want for your child and b) it is important to start your bilingual arrangement, whatever it may be, from day 1.

Most parents of bilingual children would agree that it is very difficult to change the language in which you speak to your child once you have settled into your role as Parent. It is the same when speaking to friends and work colleagues – whichever language you communicated in on day 1 tends to stick.

As we demonstrate with the family profiles here on The Bilingual Blog, bilingual approaches taken by different families can vary immensely and you will need to flexible, as there are bound to be issues you haven’t considered. However, below we present you with some important aspects to consider in planning for your bilingual family to give you food for thought.

Tips for planning your bilingual family’s approach:

1.    Meet up with others in the same language situation as yourselves. Perhaps you know others who speak the same minority language as you? Even better perhaps you know others who speak both your languages? Failing that, simply getting to know others planning to raise their children bilingually would give you some support and someone with whom you can discuss ideas.

2.    Discuss your plans with your parents. Grandparents who have no experience of raising children bilingually may need some guidance and some time to think more about the issue and their role within it. You will need to discuss how they can support your child with language learning – especially as their communication with their grandchild will make an invaluable contribution to his or her language development. If, on the other hand, you yourself are bilingual due to a bilingual upbringing then your parents probably have plenty of advice to share!

3.    Follow The Bilingual Bookshop on Facebook ( and Twitter (@bilingualbkshop) to keep up to date with the latest news and information on raising children with two languages, as well as The Bilingual Blog. Check out our bilingual family profiles for inspiration for your bilingual approach and read the articles we have written to support families just like yours.

4.    Find out if there are any playgroups for speakers of your languages in your local area, or even story or singing sessions. Ask your midwife if there are any services for bilingual parents in your area – they may have some useful information or be able to point you in the right direction.

5.    Plan your first trip to see relatives in your home country for after your bilingual baby is born. It will give you something to look forward to and will give all relatives a chance to kick-start their support for your child’s bilingual journey.

6.    Purchase some lullabies and books of rhymes in the minority language as a first step to supporting language-learning in the home. Take a look at those we stock at The Bilingual Bookshop – perfect for those early months.

7.    Whatever happens, don’t get too bogged down with ‘rules’. The Bilingual Blog aims to highlight the huge variety of ways in which parents approach bilingualism with their children. Find a way that you feel will work for you, and go with it. As mentioned before, you will need to be flexible and things may not go according to plan, but bringing up bilingual children should be a natural process – a gift to your child for their future. Good luck!


Photo courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography /

bilingual family with bilingual children

Advantages To Bilingualism And Why You Should Do It: The Profiled Family’s Perspective

When our profiled families were asked what they felt were the advantages to being bilingual, they had all sorts of wise words to share. Their firm belief in why they are doing it is truly inspiring and way too good not to be featured here!

Q. What are the advantages to raising a bilingual child?

A. Children raised bilingually have a broader view on life, with more brain activity going on at any one time. The have the flexibility to live in different places and have more Facebook friends in two countries!

The Fisher Family

A. Children transfer the knowledge and skills learnt in one language to learn a second. The greatest advantage in a learning situation is that they can talk about the differences between the two languages – the meta language! How impressive is that!!

The Mehta Family

A. We are hoping that our son will grow up with fluent language abilities and a broader world view and cultural richness

The Gates Family

A. To be honest, I’m just guessing here, but I think it gives the child a better understanding of each language as well as stronger communication skills and a wider understanding of the world and the people within it (i.e. they don’t just assume everyone speaks their main language!)

The Shortman Family

Q. What advice would you give to other families raising their children bilingually?

A. Speak to your children in your own language no matter which language it is. Your children will perceive that it comes from your heart and that it carries all your culture and your life. Neither you nor they can do without it.

The Fisher Family

A. Encourage your child to develop two languages simultaneously. Read and tell stories and rhymes in both languages. It will pay off in the long run.

The Mehta Family

A. Do what feels right for you. Don’t worry about your approach – simply having the desire to introduce another language to your child is a great thing. You may not get it right, but you can’t really do any damage, so why not give it a try? (I think I need to take that advice myself!)

The Shortman Family

A. Stick to it no matter what people around you say. This is your choice, for your children, and they should respect that.

The Sandammeer Family



Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /