Is it better to speak one or both languages at home when raising bilingual children?
Becoming bilingual or multilingual is a journey that many embrace and celebrate. However some still may not agree or understand how much bilingualism matters. Families face a dilemma when learning two languages as to whether it is better to speak one language at home or both when raising a bilingual child.
This article explores the advantages and considerations of speaking one or both languages at home. It discusses what speaking one language entails, some benefits of multilingualism and what speaking both might look like for families at home. In here I also share strategies to consider in the one language or two languages approach.
One Language at Home
Until not long ago, most families in the USA spoke only one language at home. The famous phrase “monolingualism is a curable disease” has been used to emphasize the importance of speaking more than one language. What’s not debatable is the idea that no one has ever regretted being bilingual or multilingual.
When parents choose to speak one language at home, all family members use one language. In most cases, the language is English, but some families also choose to speak the native language. The “one language at home” approach involves using only one language consistently within the household.
Advantages speaking one language
When we stick to one language, we provide kids with consistency. This consistency provides kids with ongoing practice and focus in one language. Overall, language consistency provides a clear linguistic environment for the child. This is because the child does not have to switch back and forth between different languages. Some say that when a child uses one language at home, it becomes easier to code-switch when interacting outside the home. Code-switching is common in multilingual individuals in which a speaker alternates between two or more languages or language varieties within the same conversation, sentence, or phrase.
There are some things to consider when speaking one language at home. Kids experience limited exposure to a language when we focus on only one language. When we focus on one language, it is often seen that a child develops one language more than the other. As a result, proficiency might be stronger in one language, depending on language domains.
Both Languages at Home
The “both languages at home” approach involves using both languages interchangeably within the household. This can look different for each family because some families might split the use of a language with one parent and the use of the other language with the other parent. This approach is often done when a parent in the home does not speak one of the languages however it is not the reason why some families choose to use both language.
I have met many adults who often share that they are bilingual because their parents wanted them to be bilingual. People who have shared that one of both parents spoke to them in their native language from birth to expose them to both languages. This is something a monolingual parent is not able to do but it is definitely possible when one of the parents speaks two languages.
Advantages when both languages are spoken at home
When parents choose to speak both languages at home, they provide a balanced approach to language exposure. A balanced exposure to both languages at home allows the child to practice the native and target language. Another advantage is the level of language fluidity a multilingual child can reach. The consistency in practicing both languages supports seamless code-switching between languages.
One important factor to consider is the challenge that parents face trying to expose their children to both languages. Increased exposure to a target language or multiple languages requires dedicated effort to maintain equal language exposure. This challenge can influence language acquisition in foreign languages. To Language Separation: Care should be taken to avoid language mixing or lack of differentiation.
Language Strategies to Support Language Development
Language strategies should vary depending on the approach families take at home to support their child’s bilingual journey. Below is a list of language strategies to use based on the approach your family is taking to support language development:
Strategies for the “One Language at Home” Approach to Support Bilingual Children:
- Consistency: Ensure that one language is consistently used at home, providing a clear linguistic environment for the child.
- Bilingual Books and Media: Provide a wide range of bilingual books, songs, and videos to expose the child to the second language.
- Cultural Activities: Engage in cultural activities related to the second language, such as celebrating cultural festivals and traditions.
- Bilingual Playgroups: Encourage interaction with other bilingual children to reinforce language learning through play.
- Video Calls with Relatives: Facilitate video calls with relatives or friends who speak the second language to provide additional exposure.
- Language Play and Rhymes: Incorporate language play, rhymes, and word games to make language learning enjoyable.
- Cooking and Cooking Shows: Use cooking and cooking shows as an opportunity to explore and discuss vocabulary in the second language.
- Language Learning Apps: Introduce language learning apps or online resources that offer engaging language activities for children.
- Language Art and Crafts: Engage in art and craft activities that involve learning and using vocabulary in the second language.
- Cultural Storytelling: Share stories about the culture and history of the second language to enhance cultural appreciation.
- Language-based Toys and Games: Provide toys and games that prompt language use and learning in the second language.
- Language Memory Wall: Create a memory wall with pictures and labels in the second language to reinforce vocabulary.
- Bilingual Puzzles and Flashcards: Use puzzles and flashcards to introduce and reinforce language concepts.
- Bilingual Cooking: Involve the child in bilingual cooking activities, discussing ingredients and steps in the second language.
- Language Labels: Label household items and objects in the second language to enhance language exposure.
- Language-themed Movie Nights: Organize movie nights featuring films in the second language with English subtitles.
- Bilingual Conversations: Encourage the child to converse with bilingual family members.
- Language Journals: Introduce language journals for the child to write and draw in the second language.
Remember, the “One Language at Home” approach requires consistency and support from all family members to create a rich language environment that fosters bilingual language development in children.
Strategies for the “Both Languages at Home” Approach
- Designate Language Days: Assign specific days of the week for each language to create a structured language routine.
- Language Zones: Establish different areas or spaces in the home where each language is used exclusively.
- Code-Switching Modeling: Demonstrate appropriate code-switching when speaking with the child to show how both languages can be used interchangeably.
- Language Labels: Label objects and items around the house in both languages to reinforce vocabulary.
- Bilingual Bedtime Stories: Read bedtime stories in both languages to expose the child to a variety of language expressions.
- Family Language Days: Designate certain days or times of the week when specific family members speak only one language.
- Bilingual Family Games: Play games, quizzes, or charades using both languages to make learning enjoyable.
- Multilingual TV Shows and Movies: Watch TV shows and movies in both languages to expose the child to authentic language use.
- Language Playdates: Arrange playdates with other bilingual children to encourage language practice and exchange.
- Cooking in Both Languages: Involve the child in cooking activities, discussing ingredients and steps in both languages.
- Bilingual Family Conversations: Engage in family conversations that involve switching between languages when appropriate.
- Bilingual Role Play: Encourage role-playing scenarios that require using both languages in different roles.
- Bilingual Storytelling: Share family stories and anecdotes in both languages to connect with cultural backgrounds.
- Language-based Art Projects: Engage in art projects that involve learning and using vocabulary from both languages.
- Language Days with Specific Themes: Designate certain days of the week for specific language themes, such as “Science Saturday” or “Cultural Wednesday.”
- Bilingual Music and Singing: Sing songs and listen to music in both languages to improve language rhythm and pronunciation.
- Language-based Chore Charts: Use bilingual chore charts to assign household tasks and responsibilities.
- Language Scavenger Hunts: Organize scavenger hunts with bilingual clues and prompts around the house or outdoors.
- Language-Enhanced Cooking Shows: Watch cooking shows in both languages, discussing recipes and culinary terms.
- Language-based Crafts: Create crafts that require instructions and discussions in both languages.
- Multilingual Storytelling Time: Have designated storytelling time when family members take turns sharing stories in their native languages.
The “Both Languages at Home” approach offers a diverse language environment that allows the child to become proficient in both languages while enjoying the benefits of bilingualism. Consistency and creativity in language use play a key role in ensuring successful language development in children.
Family Communication and Support
As a family, it helps to discuss the bilingual parenting approach that your family decides to implement or follow. This is important because it will secure other family members’ support. This secures consistency and unity to ensure that everyone in the family is on the same page regarding language use. This also encourages parents to engage in the child’s language development actively.
The type of language approach that a family implements at home can influence a child’s language development results. Choosing an approach that best suits your family’s unique circumstances and your goals for raising a bilingual child is important. The one-language-only approach is often implemented among monolingual families, while the two-language approach can be implemented when one or both parents are bilingual. Consider having and sharing a plan for the language learning approach you’re following. Then implement the suggested strategies to maximize your home learning environment.