2 Give Advantages Of A Language With Built-In Exception Handling Top 10 Success Factors of Raising Bilingual and Multilingual Children

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Top 10 Success Factors of Raising Bilingual and Multilingual Children

WHAT ARE THE 10 SUCCESS FACTORS?

As the name suggests, the 10 success factors determine the success of your child’s journey becoming bi- or multilingual. You will see that, as parents, we are in control of all 10 of these factors which can give us enormous power. Once you know these 10 factors, it is up to you to put them in place for your children or consciously ignore them, while accepting the consequences.

Success Factor # 1: A clear objective and strategy

Parents who know exactly which languages they want their children to speak, have a higher chance at raising bilingual children than those who just know they want bilingual children with changing ideas about which languages to choose. It is therefore important to become clear about your motives, i.e. what about each language for your child is important to you (e.g. English so my child can speak to his grandparents, Spanish so he can talk to his school friends and German because that’s my husband’s native language). It is equally critical to choose a language strategy and then stick to it throughout your children’s language journey. There are several strategies to choose from. The most common are: OPOL “one-person-one-language”, LC “language by context” or [email protected] “majority language at home”.

Success Factor # 2: Timing

You have probably heard the ground rule before: the earlier you start exposing your children to languages the better. Do you also know why? There are 4 main advantages:

• the earlier you start the better your child’s pronunciation in that language

• young children are not yet embarrassed about making mistakes and just talk

• the simple vocabulary fits with the topics generally covered in the age group

• early language learning does not tie it to reading and writing

Success Factor # 3: Regular exposure time

For each language you want your child to learn you need to provide regular and repeated language exposure for a couple of years, usually 2-4 years. For first languages we do this naturally, simply by talking to our children. For further languages, we need to put effort into providing this exposure. The amount of effort, however, will vary depending on your language objectives.

If you want your child to acquire basic skills in a language, you will need to provide at least two exposures per week of at least 30 minutes each. If you want your child to become fluent, you need to provide at the very least 60 minutes of quality exposure per day. Research recommends exposure during a third of the waking day of your child.

As a result, your child might hear 3 different languages in different proportions, e.g. 50%/30%/20% during an average day or week. These proportions will change all the time and that’s normal. Don’t expect the process to be linear. Sometimes you will feel that language A is coming along really well and that you need to work harder on providing input for language B. A few months later you might feel the opposite. When the astronauts travelled to the moon they were off course 90% of the time, but they corrected their course constantly and reached their aim. Let that be your inspiration!

Success Factor #4: Quality of Exposure

To say it straight away, it won’t be enough to place your child in front of a foreign language television programme for an hour per day and expect him/her to become bilingual. Quality of exposure is key here and that means:

– creating interactive language experiences (ideally two or more people talking)

– having a language input in the right quality/pronunciation (ideally native speakers)

– using a variety of language sources in different contexts (eg. media, people, experiences…)

In Dubai where I taught this programme for 4 years, I have often had families who were hoping that their children would pick up English from their house maids, who themselves only spoke broken English.

Children will see the adults and older peers in their life as role models and that goes for language, too. Whatever language you display as parents (or care takers, older siblings, etc.) your children will speak the same way.

So when you choose the language course, the care taker, the language CD, make sure the quality is what you want for your children. And do experiment with the wide variety of language materials available. You will find lots of ideas on the resource link at the bottom of the article.

Success Factor # 5: Child’s motivation

You might not be aware of it but you have enormous control over your child’s motivation for language learning. There are two broad categories of motivation: a) intrinsic motivation (when the child does something out of his own will) and b) extrinsic motivation (when the child does something because it gets an incentive or avoids a punishment from outside).

While you might easily imagine how you can use extrinsic motivation to influence your child’s behaviour, the better way is to work on creating intrinsic motivation. Here are a few examples of when a child is intrinsically motivated to learn a language:

• when he/she simply needs it to get by or be part of the peer group (e.g. in a new nursery)

• when he/she likes or even loves the teacher (the opposite is true, too)

• when he/she likes time in the country/with the people who speak this language

• when he/she loves someone from that country

As parents, you can set a good example by showing respect for the country and interest in the language you want your child to learn, maybe even learn it yourself and share your enthusiasm with your child. You can create opportunities for your child to like the target country and their people by traveling there and having a good time, by connecting with people from that country and helping your child find peers, by enrolling your child into their favourite activities (be it football or pottery) in your desired language. For younger children you can help by talking well and positively about family members or people from that country. And of course show a lot of patience and praise lots even for small progress or simply a good effort.

Success Factor # 6: Parents Perseverance

Bilingualism is not a project for a term or semester like an art or pottery class. Once decided and aligned with your partner/wider family, you are committed for a couple of years and your ability to stay connected to your distant goal, your ability to persevere and adapt even in new and changing circumstances will be decisive for your children’s language success. One of the best ways is to find a group of like-minded people.

Success Factor #7: Consistency of Strategy

Once you will have chosen a strategy, it will be important to stick to it throughout your child’s language journey. Your little child’s security and your relationship with him/her depend on it. The language you choose is more than a means for communication. It is your emotional bond to your child. The literature on bilingualism recommends not to change strategy once chosen – the only exception being when your child is old enough to explicitly agree to it.

Success Factor #8: Fun with the Exposure

This is one of my favourite success factors because making language learning fun does not just make it work for your children, it also makes it so enjoyable for us parents. Who does not like to see our children smile? Using games and songs are one of the best ways to make language learning fun. Language learning requires a lot of repetition and games and songs provide the opportunity for repetition naturally without stubbornly repeating the same sentences. They also create situations for using real language rather than made up sentences in text books or artificial situations in role plays. Thus, games and songs create interactive confidence in a fun way.

Success Factor #9: Plan for Continuity

Some of us are expats and our lives take us from country to country with new circumstances turning what seemed simple into yet another challenge. In short, for many of us life changes constantly. As parents we need to make a real commitment to our children’s bilingualism and think ahead. It takes about 2 years of continuous, regular exposure to a language for your child to be settled or comfortable in a language. Where might you be in 2 years? How will you ensure continuity for your child’s language development and goals? Keep these questions in mind when you decide on the number of languages you want your child to pick up.

Luckily, once you will have your objective and strategy set, all you need to change in a new situation is your language plan and its execution.

Success Factor #10: Siblings

Siblings can either be an enormous help or a roadblock to your younger children’s bilingualism – depending on how well you did with the language journey of your older child. If you have done well, the older sibling will provide extra language exposure for your younger one and you get more verbal exchange in the desired language but if you missed the boat with your first one, this can also backfire for your second/third and tip the language balance in the wrong direction.

Finally, I mentioned an eleventh factor: your child’s aptitude for languages. This is a genetic factor and the only one you have no influence on or control over. Some children are simply better at languages than others. However, all other 10 factors are well within your realm of influence. So use them!

To create your family-tailored language success plan for your child, I recommend the workshop “Make Your Child Multilingual!” available at http://www.amazon.com/Make Your Child Multilingual which has been proven to work for hundreds of families before. In 10 easy steps this work book guides and coaches you to end up with a powerful personal success plan tailored to the needs of your family.

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