Not a Native Speaker? You Can Still Raise Your Child To Be Bilingual!

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As a parent, Head of Content for Learn Safari and a teacher, I’m often on the lookout for methods and teaching and ideas that will really spark learning for kids.  I am often thinking about how to raise my two (almost 3!) sprouting little bilinguals how I can effectively share my native language and Venezuelan heritage. I know, however, that having been raised bilingually myself and knowing my two languages to native proficiency, I am at a HUGE advantage when it comes to teaching my kids. But, what about parents who may want to teach their children a language that they are not a native speaker of, or moreover, a language they may not even know that well at all? 

I see this issue being brought up often. Parents concerned that they don't know the target language well enough. To my surprise, they are often discouraged from even trying! They are told they won't be able to do it, or that their language skills (or lack there of) will confuse their children, etc. Well, I'm here to tell you differently! Parents, you can teach your children a second (or third) language even if it’s not your native language. Actually, you can introduce a second language to your child even if you don’t speak the language at all! It’s not magical and super easy.  in fact, it takes hard work and dedication. But it can really happen and here I will give you a few pointers as to how.


Lose your Fear

Fear is often what holds us back when it comes to speaking a second language. It will also hold us back from teaching our children another language. You may often feel like you’re not good enough to teach your child or that your grammar or accent is too strong and that you will just confused them. Well, children are not so easily confused!! Even if you’re not perfect when speaking the target language, you will not hurt your child when you try! If anything, you will teach them to not be fearful and that it’s ok to make mistakes, as long as you keep learning, growing and trying. If you are worried that they will copy your mistakes or "bad habits" the best thing to do is to expose them to many authentic sources in the target language. 


Ditch the concept of OPOL or MLAH

One Parent One Language (OPOL) and Minority Language at Home (MLAH) are two extremely popular concepts for raising bilingual children. The first means that each parent is in charge of speaking to the child exclusively in one language, usually their native language. The other involves everyone speaking the minority or target language within the family and letting the majority or community language be taught to the child outside of the home (To learn more about these concepts, click here).

Both of these concepts are great ways of raising bilingual children and they can be extremely effective. However, they are not the end all and be all of language instruction. If they work for your family, it’s awesome! But not all families are set up to learn languages this way and not using one of these methods will not confuse or put your child at a disadvantage! The important thing is that your child has enough quality exposure to language and there are many ways to do that.


Make Time for Your Target Language

If the target language you are teaching your child is not your native language, or if you do not know it much at all, it can be a truly daunting task to use the language with them. Your love language will be your native language and when you share your sweetest and most intimate moments with your child you may want to use your native language. And that’s ok!

However, it’s important that you spend quality and quantity of time in the target language. You want to go for at least 25 to 30 hours a week! It’s a good idea to maybe pick a time and a place that you schedule to practice your target language. Use the time to speak with your child in the target language and use all of ideas below to give your child sufficient exposure so that they can be successful little bilinguals.


Find a Language Teacher

One of the best and easiest ways to teach your child a second language that is not your own is to find a language teacher. Depending on your area, you may have language schools that offer your target language. You can also look on websites such as Craig’s list or local tutoring sites. You can even find an online teacher and have skype sessions! This can be effective for your child and for you as well if you want to learn alongside your kids!


Use Apps

You can find good quality apps that help to teach and reinforce the target language for your child. They are a small investment that can be extremely beneficial as long as you find a good quality app that will entertain and teach your child. Apps are great entertainment and a few minutes a day on a quality language app can really get your child into practicing language skills. For tips on how to find quality apps, check out our blog post. 


Use Videos, Audio books, and Youtube

We live in the age of technology. Take advantage of it! Videos, audio books and Youtube videos in the target language can give authentic exposure to the target language for your child. This is especially useful if you feel like your accent isn’t great because it’s not your native language or if you want them to have more than just one source of language.


Read Books

I can’t stress the importance of reading enough! It’s the best way to learn vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure. Reading aloud to your child in the target language will not only help your child learn, but it will help you learn and practice right along with your child. It will also give you topics to talk about and it’s a great way to bond together.


Make Friends in The Target Language

Language is about communication and connection. The best way to practice language is to communicate with others. Finding a community of people who speak the target language will be your best asset when raising bilingual children. Look for a play group or try to make friends that speak your target language and set up play dates and events where you and your child can share with people. The more opportunities you create to hear and participate in the target language, the better your outcomes will be.

Remember, language is fluid and most people can’t have a steady plan that they ALWAYS follow and that ALWAYS works. And kids don't get confused by that!!! Just don’t give up! Establish times when you use your target language, listen to music, audio books, read stories, have conversations and connect with others. You can practice and learn more together! If you are purposeful you will give your child the gift of being bilingual, you will learn right along with him or her, and you will have a beautiful and deep connection in several languages. 

Are you a parent who has been teaching their children a language that is not your native language? We'd love to hear from our experiences! Share in the comments below. 

About The Author

Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on English Safari,  a game for children 4-10 years old who speak Spanish and want to learn English. It's not available in the App Store and in the Google Play Store! You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Keli Garcia Allen