Episode 06 – The Bilingual Child Part 2

In this Part 2 of The Bilingual Child, we talk about the ways on how your child can maintain a second language. 

Now in this episode, we continue the discussion about the bilingual child, in particular:

  • Factors that influence learning another language for the bilingual child.
  • Ways to motivate your child to speak another language.
  • Common myths about bilingual language development.
  • Advantages of speaking another language.
  • How to assess language difficulties for children with another language at home.
  • Practical tips for educators.

Factors that influence learning another language for the bilingual child

Areas to consider:

  • Pattern of exposure – as a parent or educator, you should be mindful as to the exposure levels that your child has with each language because that’s going to determine how much practice your child gets.
  • Opportunity to practice with an experienced speaker – by listening to a speaker who speaks the second language quite well, it provides a good model of language and a good avenue for the child to be able to imitate from that and get corrections.
  • Importance placed on home language maintenance – it really depends what the family goals are when using the second language at home
  • Motivation – how motivated is the child to speak that second language
  • Culture
  • Child’s learning ability

Ways to motivate your child to speak another language

If your child is brought up with 2 languages in the beginning, it is important you provide lots of opportunities for the child to hear and use both languages. It is key for your child to have lots of practice, because if you don’t use it, you lose it.

It is also important to establish your goals as a family. In our case, I speak Italian and my husband speaks Greek, but we were purposeful in using English as our main language at home and have Greek and Italian reinforced by the grandparents.

7 ways to motivate your child to speak the minority language:

  1. Habit – make it a habit to speak another language at home.
  2. Create a need – look at ways that you can create a need like setting up a Skype call with family in the home country or travelling back to your home country.
  3. Positive feedback – make it a positive experience for your child to speak the minority language
  4. Incentives – as a parent, you need to understand what motivates your child like an object or anything that will encourage them to speak the second language
  5. Be a role model – speak the minority language yourself as much as possible. Switching languages will not confuse your child.
  6. Get books in your home language – this increases exposure to different vocabulary, grammar and experiences related to the other language.
  7. Think of fun activities – dance, music and cultural activities that will make your child feel a part of that minority language tradition.

The common myths about bilingual language development

  • Switching between languages is detrimental and shows confusion
  • Home language prevents learning of the community language
  • A second language can cause language delay
  • A second language can be learned purely from tv, music, and books
  • You should wait until the child is older before introducing a second language

Advantages of speaking another language

  • Delayed onset of dementia – this is according to a research by Thomas Bach
  • Enhances a child’s working memory – different parts of the brain are activated when speaking multiple languages
  • More open-minded and sensitive to others – mostly due to exposure to other cultures
  • Increased problem-solving ability and enhanced mental linguistic awareness – the child will develop more awareness about language as a system
  • Increased cognitive flexibility – improved reasoning skills, verbal abilities and being able to think outside the square
  • Career opportunities later in life

How to assess language difficulties for children with another language at home

A really important point to remember is that if there is an issue with language development, it’s going to affect all languages that the child is learning, not just the home or the community language.

When people see us speech pathologists for an assessment, one of the things we do is we collect a very detailed case history of what’s happening with the child’s communication in the home and school environment. 

Another thing that we do consider is looking at a language difference versus a language difficulty. An example of a language difference, for children speaking English and Chinese, we notice that vowels sounds are affected and also the last sound of a word is often not pronounced. In these cases, we consider this not as a language difficulty but a language difference.

Practical tips for educators

  • Consider the language differences
  • Observe a child’s foundation skills like play, social and interaction skills are developing appropriately
  • Check that a child is understanding what’s going on and is following routine
  • Educators should provide a good model of English
  • Use lots of demonstrations, modelling and role-playing
  • Use very simple sentence structures
  • Be aware of a child’s silent period – continue talking to them and get them to participate more
  • Encourage parents to support strong development of the home language and culture


Watch out for Episode 7, where we will be talking about food and how it affects your child’s learning.

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Any information and links presented within the Chatabout Children™ with Sonia Bestulic podcast are aimed to provide general information and advice only.
Information is to be used at the discretion of the consumer/ listener. The information presented does not replace or substitute the expert advice received from a direct consultation with the relevant qualified professional.


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