For many newcomer families, learning English or French is one of the first things they need to do after arriving in Canada. As both are the official languages of Canada, knowing one or the other will help greatly with finding a job, making new friends, and enjoying everyday life. However, many newcomer families also worry that their native language will be lost once their children begin attending an English or French-speaking school and speaking only English or French outside of the home. There’s good news though: losing your second language doesn’t have to happen. In fact, more than 50% of the world can speak more than one language, which means that your children can too. Here are some details about raising your child to speak more than one language:
How to raise your child to speak two languages
There are many benefits to speaking more than one language, and they’re more than just sounding cool!
- Being able to communicate with extended family
- A diverse cultural upbringing; tolerance and acceptance of other cultures
- Increased future job opportunities
- Greater ability to focus
- Delayed onset of Alzheimer’s disease compared to people who can only speak one language
While there are at least 6 different ways that you can speak with your husband, wife, or partner at home to help your child learn their second language, here are the most common:
- Speak 2 languages at home (one parent, one language)
You may choose to teach your children how to speak another language by having one parent speak English or French, and the other parent speak your native language. In this way the child is given equal opportunity to speak both languages.
- Non-dominant home language (one language, one environment)
Because Korean (or Arabic, French, Tigrinya, etc.) are spoken at home most of the time, your child will need to learn English from sources outside the home at an early age. Consider English-speaking friends, family, or daycare so that their English skills don’t suffer.
- Non-dominant home language without community support (most common among newcomer families)
Because only Cantonese (or Spanish, Tagalog, Farsi, etc.) are spoken at home, as in Method 2, your child will need to learn English from sources outside the home. They may require extra support to learn English at school as well.
1. Will my child be confused if we use two languages at home?
There is no evidence to suggest that children get confused. As long as most people in the child’s family and community use only one language at a time, the child will learn that this is the appropriate way to use their two languages.
2. What if my child mixes their languages? For example, when they speak half the sentence in Hindi but the other half in English?
Mixing languages is normal – even bilingual adults do it! Some concepts may be expressed more easily in one language than the other. However, sometimes children will use words in one language because they don’t have the vocabulary for those words in their other language. Make the effort to teach your child some of the vocabulary in the language that you notice them missing.
3. Will my child’s language learning be delayed because they have to learn 2 languages at the same time?
Studies have shown that children who receive an equal amount of exposure to both languages (50/50) will develop their ability to speak at nearly the identical rate as other children who are only exposed to one language. However, if their exposure to one of their languages is reduced, they may experience some delays in learning, and will require extra support to help them catch up.
While teaching your child two languages can be difficult, here are some extra steps you can take to help them learn:
- Celebrate holidays and events specific to the child’s second language
- Ask relatives to speak with your child only in the language you want them to learn
- Hire a babysitter or nanny who speaks a second language, and ask them to use it
Send your child to bilingual daycare, or find bilingual playdates in the community
This article was compiled with resources from:
The Huffington Post. Raising Bilingual Children: Who Should Speak What? Kevin M. Wong
McGill University. A Short Guide to Raising Children Bilingually Fred Genesee