How Do I Raise My Kids to Be Bilingual?

How do I raise my kids to be bilingual?

In this post, I’d like to share with you my experience on how I raise my kids to be bilingual.

Since my children are still relatively small (5 and 1), I’d like to come up with some updates in the future.

 

Why I Raise My Kids to Be Bilingual

Raising my kids to be bilingual has always been a priority for me. Even before they were born, I knew that my children would have to be able to communicate in Spanish (my native language) and Norwegian (my husband’s native language).

There isn’t a rational explanation for this. It just feels right to me.

I guess there’s a combination of factors:

 

  • I’ve always been genuinely interested in bilingual households.
  • I come from a place where two official languages coexist: Catalan and Spanish.
  • My father always regretted not having learned to speak another language.
  • Learning English and Norwegian has made me realize how challenging learning languages can be.

 

The Benefits of Being Bilingual

By raising my kids to be bilingual, I want them to:

 

  • Have more opportunities and options for:
    • getting better jobs
    • traveling
    • studying
    • living in different places
    • knowing more people
  • Have a sense of belonging in both countries
  • Expand their horizons
  • Be more open-minded towards people with different backgrounds
  • Feel proud of their Spanish and Norwegian origins
  • Be connected to both cultures
  • Learn more languages easily

 

What Bilingualism Means to Me

What does bilingualism mean to me? Is it to understand what native speakers say? Or is it to be able to speak two languages?

When I think of bilingualism, I always recall a few friends from childhood who:

 

  • Speak Catalan and Spanish
  • Can easily switch from Spanish to Catalan and vice versa depending on who they’re talking to
  • Have a native level of both languages
  • Do not feel superior to those who aren’t bilingual

So for me, my kids being bilingual means that they:

 

  • speak Spanish as good as me (or even better)
  • speak Norwegian as good as their father (or even better)

 

Challenges

Being bilingual is a gift. However, raising bilingual kids is not always a bed of roses. I wish it were so.

The main challenges of raising kids to be bilingual are:

 

  • Few chances to use the language
  • Limited exposure to one of the languages
  • Rejection to speak in one of the languages
  • Lack of understanding by others

 

How to Raise Kids to Be Bilingual

In my path to raise my kids to be bilingual, there’s been a lot of trial and error.

Here’s a few mistakes that I might have made:

 

  • Telling my daughter that I don’t understand her when she speaks in Norwegian to me (She would ignore me!)
  • Comparing her with monolingual kids
  • Underestimating the process of acquiring two languages as a kid (And wrongly believing is a piece of cake)

Here’s what has worked to raise my kids to be bilingual:

 

  • Traveling to Spain for Christmas and summer
  • Moving to Spain for ten months (Definitely what has worked best by far!)
  • Consuming Spanish content (music, TV shows, books, etc.)
  • Speaking Spanish at home
  • Being open and talking about why we want them to be bilingual

 

Where Are We Now in Terms of Bilingualism?

Our five-year-old daughter:

 

  • Is fluent in both Norwegian and Spanish
  • Pronounces both languages as a native speaker
  • Understands Norwegian and Spanish without a problem
  • Speaks to me in Spanish and to her father in Norwegian
  • Expects us, my husband and I, to use our native language with her
  • Communicates with her little brother in Norwegian or Spanish indistinctively depending on the situation
  • Forgets a language if she doesn’t use it
  • Needs some time to get back on track with either her Norwegian or Spanish after living for a long time in Spain or Norway

Our one-year-old son:

 

  • Understands what we say, or at least we think so because of his reactions.

 

Conclusion

Based on my experience raising my kids to be bilingual, I’ve come across to the following conclusions:

 

  • Kids acquire languages and forget them quickly when they don’t use them.
  • Re-learning a language might take some time, but not as much as learning it for the first time.
  • Immersion, lots of exposure to the languages, and many chances to use them in different social settings is key to become bilingual.
  • Raising bilingual kids requires conscious effort, commitment and patience.

What do you think about raising kids to be bilingual? Please, leave a comment!