Monolingual parents: Can I raise my child bilingually?
I’m a firm believer that anyone can learn a language, even if you don’t have bilingual parents! There are two case scenarios for monolingual parents.
The first one is when both parents speak one language at home and the child learns/speaks another language at school. Usually this language is the one spoken outside. The child usually picks up the language within a year or two. He/she might go through a silent phase, which is part of the learning process but once mastered, this second language very often becomes the dominant language. The challenge for monolingual parents will then be to ensure that the first language is maintained. This can be done by maintaining strong links with the first language -trips back to home country, speak to family, maintain language at home etc.
The next case scenario is when parents happen to have one language at home and want their child to learn a second language that is neither the language spoken at school nor the one spoken outside. With a bit of effort and passion you can definitely make your child bilingual.
The earlier you start the better. Don’t wait until your child is in high school! The key is for your child to find the need to speak the language. You need to find opportunities for him to speak the language the most naturally possible.
A child will be willing and interested in learning a new language if he sees that both his parents show an interest and passion for this language. So it is very important that the child sees your love for the language: learn the language yourself, listen to some music, turn the TV/radio on so that the language is heard at home. As Barbara Abdelilah-Bauer explains “Pas d’apprentissage si l’affectif n’est pas garanti” “No learning will take place if you can’t secure an emotional attachment to the language”. [translated by me]
If you get the chance, try to go on holidays where the language is spoken, get some books/magazines in the language. If you are learning French type in google.fr and find age appropriate games, videos, websites for your child. Try to get in touch with the community and see if you can organise play dates with children that speak the language. If you can afford it, an au pair is a great way to get your child exposed to the language in a natural way. Finally, bilingual schools are a fantastic way to get your child immersed in the language. You can find a list of bilingual schools in Australia below.
Just keep in mind that a language to be learnt needs to be spoken! Learners need to find opportunities to speak the language as much as possible and this needs to be on a continuum, not just a one off.