Top tips for raising multilingual kids

You may already be familiar with the many benefits of raising children who can understand and speak more than one language. Making this a reality in your own family may be a little more difficult than you think at first, but the results are definitely worth the effort. Here are some useful tips to get you started.
  • Start them young. Research indicates that when it comes to learning a new language, younger kids manage much more effortlessly than older ones. Children can be brought up multilingual from birth and the “window of opportunity” during which they have this enhanced ability seldom extends past puberty. This doesn’t mean that older children can’t learn extra languages, of course. It’s never too late.
  • Always be supportive of their efforts to learn. Be patient, praise their successes and be enthusiastic about their progress.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to hear and practice all of her languages in meaningful everyday situations. If your main home language is English and she is also learning to speak Afrikaans, for instance, seek out play groups, sports clubs and other extramural activities where Afrikaans is spoken.
  • Expose your kids to multilingual books, DVDs, CDs and children’s TV programs from early on in their lives. Singing songs and storytelling are fun ways of incorporating several languages into their daily activities.
  • Learn a new language together with your child. Learning to speak Zulu as a family, for example, can be a fun and enriching experience for all of you.
  • Visit multilingual cultural events like plays and movies with your kids whenever you get the opportunity and cultivate friendships with other multilingual families.
  • Be creative. Have a day once a week when everybody in your house only speaks the additional language your kids are trying to learn. Play their favourite board and card games using only that language.
  • With older kids you might want to talk to them about why it’s fun and useful to learn a new language. Look for exciting ways of learning the language together with them and never force the issue. It’s important that they really enjoy the process themselves.

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