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 / freedigitalphotos.net


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, www.talkingtipsforkids.com

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 http://www.jneurosci.org/content/33/41/16170.full

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 (www.facebook.com/thebilingualbookshop) 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 / freedigitalphotos.net

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 / freedigitalphotos.net

Introducing The Shortman Family

Introducing The Shortman Family: Amanda and TJ are both English, and their son, Little Man, is 16 months old. Amanda and TJ generally speak English at home, but Amanda uses her knowledge of German to enrich her son’s language development.

“Little Man is still only babbling, and is beginning to use the odd English word (like ‘bye’) in context. He prefers making noise to actual speech sounds! We use English all the time at home, but I occasionally throw in bits of German and we have some German toys and books at home.

English is the main, sometimes only, language used in our home as both myself and my husband are English. Although I studied languages at university, it is several years since I graduated and used them regularly, so I feel very out of practice. I hope to improve this soon though, as I feel that it is important to introduce other languages to children from a very early age.

I loved languages but only started learning them at secondary school (aged 11) and even with a natural proficiency with language, I have yet to feel truly confident in my ability (despite spending 3 months living and working in Germany, and another 3 months studying in Russia!). However, although no single language was fluent, the more lnaguages I studied the easier I found language learning, because my brain started to work in a different way and I began to see similarities between the way they all worked.

Although I wish Little Man was able to hear a native speaking, I still think that teaching him my ‘rusty’ German is better than nothing! My husband also has relatives in Austria, so we’re hoping to visit them when finances allow for a trip.

My husband occasionally says the odd thing in French (that he remembers from school). We’re a bit hotch potch with our use of languages, with no real idea of what we’re doing or where we’re going. I do, however, have an aunt who is Swedish, so we may even decide to introduce that when Little Man is older so he can hear a language spoken fluently by a native speaker (especially as there are similarities between German and Swedish). I really hope we don’t confuse the poor boy!

Little Man seems quite content to play with his German-speaking toys and when I sing or say something in German, at this stage it is almost as if it makes no difference to him what language I use.

I have no real idea of what I am doing, other than I want to introduce the very beginnings of other languages to Little Man, even if we don’t ever reach true bilingualism with him!”