bilingual family · Montessori - A Parent's Guide

Bilingual Baby – How To Introduce A Second Language At Home

Welcome to the first of our five part series on using Montessori to introduce a second language to your infant. In this post we will be examining if it is possible to raise a bilingual child when neither parent is fluent in a second language. (Part Two; Songs and Signs, Part Three; Books)

How To Introduce a Second Language at Home and Raise a Bilingual Baby even if you're not fluent

When introducing a second language to a child the ideal approach is the OPOL approach – One Parent One Language. But what if neither parent is fluent in a second language? Is it still possible to create a bilingual home environment? The good news is that yes it’s possible. The bad news is that you will have to work harder! Truthfully your child may never reach fluency without outside help since that aim would require 50% of a child’s waking time to be spent in the second language. However before you feel discouraged the best news is that your ultimate goal doesn’t need to be making your child fluent.

Does fluency matter?

Of course it matters! But does it need to be the most important thing about a second language? Absolutely not! Introducing any amount of a second language will enable your child to engage with another culture, to communicate with more people and to use their brain in a powerful new way. Children who are learning another language show so many benefits; they think faster, they perform better in maths, they have bigger, healthier brains which are less prone to illness and they display greater empathy (overview of the benefits here).

What can you as a monolingual parent, perhaps living in a monolingual culture do?

Learn the Language

Languages are about communications and relationships, if you want your child to speak a second language you will need to start to speak it! There is no short cut to this! Start by writing down the words you use most frequently with your child, when you’re comfortable with them move on to phrases. It’s handy to pick one activity and establish your skills in that first, this way you’re not faced with learning an entire language but just the words and sentences do with with bath time for example.

Plan Ahead and Use Resources

The next few posts will give you some guidance in finding and using second language resources at home.  Spend some time in the evening practicing an activity for the next day. You can bookmark websites on your laptop, download songs on to your phone, set up a play basket.

Most importantly; modify your expectations

If neither parent is fluent in or willing to exclusively speak their second language then it may be unrealistic to expect your toddler to develop the skills of a native speaker. That doesn’t mean they can’t acquire meaningful and practical skills. Your aim as monolingual parents is to give your child a strong phonic foundation in the second language and not to produce the results of a native speaker.

A phonic foundation is simply the subconscious knowledge that underpins our use of language. It is primarily composed of how words sound but also includes some language laws. A child learning English from a fluent speaker learns how to build the language without thinking. (Here comes the grammar – DON’T FREAK OUT!) For example they learn that adding -ly to the end of a word turns it into an adverb (slowly, quickly) and to use that word with a verb, they learn that adjectives come before nouns (the white snow, the pretty kitten). A baby builds these foundations without a lesson, they just pick it up and with the correct exposure they will pick it up in the second language. Thanks to your hard work in the early years building a strong Phonic Foundation your child will acquire fluency in a second language with greater ease as they are already familiar with the pronunciation and many of the challenging grammatical aspects that first time learners struggle with. This applies even if they take up lessons as an adult.

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About Fred and Ted’s Bilingual Journey

I am a primary school teacher who specialised in Spanish Language, together with the fact that I speak Spanish fluently creating a bilingual home was always a no brainer….until Alfie was born. In the first few weeks of Alfie’s life speaking only a language that no one else spoke felt very isolating, like I was cutting the two of us off from the rest of the world. It also felt rather unnatural to me since I still think in English speaking Spanish put a tiny momentary barrier between what I felt and wanted to say and what came out of my mouth. Those weeks are demanding enough without adding that pressure. This is an issue I’ve since heard is very common in parents of second languages. I think an extra language is a massive advantage for a child and many parents have the skills required to introduce a language at home if they only had the confidence. 

If you come from a multilingual home then this is the article for you!

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5 thoughts on “Bilingual Baby – How To Introduce A Second Language At Home

  1. Thanks so much for this post! I am also not going for the OPOL method with our child. He is 9 months old now, we have a few songs we listen to or I’ll sing to him, a few nursery rhymes and books in English. Sometimes I may say something to him in English, just because it happens. But it is not our conversational language at home. We live in Germany and my husband and I are both German, talking German to each other. We both have a good command of the English language and I am studying English at university. I don’t have a German accent when talking English, too. But still, there’s no rush. I believe expectations are key in raising bilingual children. Know what you want and what to expect. I don’t expect him to start talking in English whenever he will begin speaking. He will go to kindergarten when he turns 1, so he probably won’t make any efforts in that direction anyway as all the world around him will be talking German. But I will have him exposed to some of the language giving him a head start for later in life.

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    1. Another Bilingual Mom! Hello! Glad you enjoyed the post, so many people won’t try because there is a focus on fluency but as you say that is not an essential requirement, we are simply trying to give our children an advantage in the future. 🙌🏼 There will be a new post tomorrow about using songs and signs to deepen their learning, it might be useful too since you’re already singing! Ted

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      1. Ha! Great minds think alike, I guess. I am in fact signing with him, too. I was going to anyway and then figured it would help filling the gaps in both languages along the way, since the sign I would use would be the same in either language.
        Looking forward to your post.
        Lots of love
        Annie

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