How to Raise a Bilingual Child

by Liliana Diaz November 29, 2020 1 Comment

How to Raise a Bilingual Child

Are you trying to raise your child to be bilingual? Are you looking for the best way to expose your child to your home language? Are you uncertain of where to start? Well then keep reading because you are in the right spot!

Before I can discuss some tips on how to raise a bilingual child, we first need to discuss your plan and goals. What are your bilingual goals for your child and your family?  The best way to start is by discussing your goals with your family and establishing a plan that will be the easiest  for you and will allow you to be consistent. The last thing you would want to do is establish goals that are unrealistic or push yourself out of your comfort zone. Your goals should always include being able to provide rich language models in all environments, therefore, if you are not fluent in a language or feel uncomfortable speaking the language, you should not force yourself to speak that language to your child.


Developing the Plan & Discussing Your Goals

Here are some questions to ask yourself and/or your family in order to help you establish bilingual goals for your child:

How fluent do you want your child to be in the minority language/majority language?

Bilingualism exists on a continuum meaning that a person’s fluency is always fluctuating depending on time, context and/or setting. Personally, I don’t believe balanced bilinguals is a thing (a person that has equal proficiency in both languages) because a person’s proficiency of a particular language can vary based on the amount of usage and exposure from day to day. Consider whether you want your child to have an equal amount of exposure and usage of both languages.

When discussing bilingualism, there are two ways that a person can be bilingual – expressive bilingual and receptive bilingual. An expressive bilingual is a person that can speak both languages and a receptive bilingual is someone who only understands the language but doesn’t speak it. Do you want your child to be expressive/receptive bilingual or just a receptive bilingual (comprehend the language only)?

Do you want your child to be a simultaneous bilingual or a sequential bilingual?

A simultaneous bilingual is someone who acquired both languages at the same time. A sequential bilingual is someone who acquired one language first and then the second language at another point in time. One is not better than the other. There are many people who are simultaneous and/or sequential bilinguals and are perfectly fluent in both languages. Do you only want to focus on the minority language at home and then later provide your child the opportunity to learn the majority language once he/she enters school? Do you want your child to learn both languages at the time?

Do you want your child to be able to read, speak and write in the minority/majority language?

When discussing language learning and/or language skills, it can be divided into two categories: Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency. Per the Ohio University website, “Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) are the language skills needed in social situations. It is the day-to-day language needed to interact socially with other people. English language learners (ELLs) employ BIC skills when they are in social situations such as the cafeteria, at parties, playing sports and talking on the telephone. Social interactions are usually context embedded. That is, they occur in a meaningful social context. They are not very demanding cognitively. These language skills usually develop within 6 months to 2 years. Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) refers to formal academic learning. This includes listening, speaking, reading, and writing about subject area content material. This level of language learning is essential for students to succeed in school. Students need time and support to become proficient in academic areas. This usually takes from five to seven years.” Keeping this in mind, do you want your child to be able to use the language to have social conversations only (BICS)? Is it important for you that your child be able to read, write and speak the other language and develop CALP?

Assuming that you want your child to be able to speak, read and write the minority language, are you going to consider enrolling your child in a special bilingual program to achieve this? How else can you achieve this?

You can read all about the benefits of bilingual programs and the different types of bilingual programs that exist here.

Is your family in agreement with your goals and how will you combat negative comments towards your decisions?

There are many myths associated with bilingualism and when it comes to parenting, you will receive countless suggestions and tips from other parents, friends or family members. Are you ready to deal with the negative myths that exist about bilingualism? Make sure you are well informed about the benefits of bilingualism, typical language acquisition in bilingual children, and the common myths associated with bilingualism. This will help ensure that you can shut down any negative comments about raising your child to become bilingual and provide facts that are heavily supported by research on bilingualism. The last thing you would want to do is doubt yourself and your end goals.

Putting the Plan into Action & Top Bilingual Parenting-Methods

 Now that you have developed a plan with the goals that you want for your bilingual family. It is time to put that plan into action. How are you going to achieve your goals? Here are some popular bilingual parenting-methods that are often utilized in order to expose children to two or more languages. Before we discuss the parenting methods, I want to point out that NO ONE PARENTING METHOD IS SUPERIOR TO THE OTHER. Pick a parenting method that will be easier and more convenient for you and your family and adapt it to meet your child’s needs. It can be very difficult to follow a parenting method exactly by the book and that’s ok. After all, parenting is not always one route journey. Below are 5 popular bilingual parenting methods along with their pros and cons.

One Parent, One Language

This parenting strategy works great if one parent is fluent in one language and the other parent is fluent in another (Example: Parent 1 is fluent is Spanish & Parent 2 is fluent in Polish). With the One Parent, One Language Method, one of the child’s parents speaks one language and the other speaks a different language to the child. It is important to keep in mind that with this bilingual parenting method, parents don’t have to speak exclusively in their “assigned” language. Once again, do what is more natural for you and your family. The last thing you would want to do is force your child to only speak the language that is assigned to the parent. Communication should not be forced nor ignored if it is not in the target language.

Pro: If both parents are completely fluent in their native language, the child will receive rich language modeling from both parents

Con: If the child spends more time with one particular parent, the child might not receive enough exposure in the second language.

Minority Language at Home

This bilingual parenting method works great if both parents are fluent in the same language. In this parenting method, both parents or caregivers only speak the minority language at home and in other environments. This ensures that the child receives ultimate exposure in the minority language at all times. A common concern that parents have with this parenting method is that the child will not speak the majority language once he/she enters school. However, one thing to keep in mind is that children are able to adapt to their new environment and easily learn new concepts. Learning the majority language at a later time will not have any harm on your child and he/she will be able to be successful in school.  

Pro: The child will receive a lot of exposure in his/her native language which builds for more opportunities to increase your child’s expressive and receptive vocabulary skills. The family also doesn’t have to worry about switching languages or providing enough exposure.

Con: Your child may not know or speak the majority language when entering school and often this may cause parents to worry.

Time, Context, & Setting Dependent

This bilingual parenting method is great if your child has grandparents or other caregivers that speak another language. Perhaps your child is only required to speak the minority language when he/she visits grandma or when he/she is in daycare. In this parenting method, the use of each language depends on the context, situation, or environment that your child is in.

Pro: Your child will easily be able to code-switch amongst his/her environment and with his/her communication partners.

Con: This parenting method might not provide as much consistent exposure to a language and may also cause for stronger language preferences (more dominant in one language when compared to the other).

Mixed Languages

This parenting method works great if both parents are bilingual and feel more comfortable speaking in both languages at home. With this parenting method, parents might switch their language depending on the conversation, topic, context, setting, time, place or person they are talking to. Often times, parents who have grown up as bilingual are more comfortable using this method because it is more natural for them to communicate like this. Some parents might also find that they code-mix a lot more at home which is totally normal.

Pro: This parenting method is more laid back and allows for more natural communication experiences. Your child will learn and be able to code-mix which is a natural process for bilingual people.

Con: Your child might not develop enough proficiency in both languages. Your child may also develop a language preference and become more dominant in the majority language if not enough exposure is provided in the minority language.

You’ve Picked a Parenting Method, Now What?!

As mentioned above, it’s hard to follow a parenting method exactly by the book but try to be as consistent as possible in order to ensure enough exposure in the target language(s). Keep your interactions natural, do what is easy for you and your family, make it fun and keep it consistent. Read, play and incorporate language in your everyday routines. Reading is a great way to establish biliteracy. Playing ensures that your child is truly having fun and not creating forced interactions during language learning. Incorporating language in your everyday routines such as “bath time, laundry time, dressing time, outdoor trips, grocery trips, etc.” will help maintain consistency and build vocabulary from a variety of settings.

Please share below in the comments which bilingual parenting method has been most successful for you and why. I would love to hear about all of your different bilingual parenting experiences.

Liliana Diaz
Liliana Diaz


1 Response


January 28, 2021

Hi! I was always told by an SLP friend that code mixing “give me el agua” for example is not a good way to model language for a child. That if you are going to say a sentence for example u say that sentence in English completely and the next Spanish. But no code mixing because it causes confusion. Do u agree with this? Thanks for your help!

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