In this post: Family Language Consultant Rebeca Imberg shares 5 common challenges families face raising bilingual kids as well as strategies to overcome them.

Raising bilingual children can be a challenging journey. From trying to navigate the use of two or more languages at home, to finding resources to support language development and external influences, there are many factors parents have to consider.

At Bilikids, our mission is to help families raise multilingual children, in a way that preserves and values the family’s native languages and cultures.

In this post we will explore five of the most common challenges in bilingual parenting, as well as provide strategies and solutions to overcome them.

5 challenges of raising bilingual kids with a photo of Rebeca Imberg, linguist and bilingual parenting expert

Being Your Child’s Only Source of Input

It is clear that the more sources of input your child has, the more he or she will recognize the functionality of the minority language. If, on the other hand, only mom is speaking in the mother tongue, this will not be “as cool” as speaking the language their friends speak.

However, there are different ways for them to recognize the value of that language. Make them love and identify themselves with the culture from an early age. Many people say “language is culture”, from my linguistic perspective culture is a bridge identity that will awaken your interest in language.

STRATEGY: Create a little cultural corner at home with photos and souvenirs of the country where the minority language is spoken, and let’s arouse their curiosity through music, dance and food. Yes food, believe it or not.

My daughter and I play that we are on a Costa Rican TV show and while we are cooking picadillo or gallo pinto, we name the ingredients in Spanish and she laughs when I say: “ay amigos televidentes a mi hija le encanta comer gallopinto en las mañanas”… (even though she doesn’t like beans that much she ends up eating them because her TV friends are watching here!)

Related Post: Best Homeschool Spanish Elementary Curriculum

Your Partner Does Not Understand Your Mother Tongue

In studies of language maintenance and language shift (Fishman 1991) it has been recognized that in family dynamics where the couple does not understand the minority language, there is more loss of linguistic heritage, and this is logical.

We don’t want to exclude our partner from some conversations or sometimes we want to talk to our children but have them understand too. However, this affects the fact that we are not consistent in the use of the target language and the children, by being pragmatic and knowing that mom also understands the other language, will cause patterns of single language use at home to repeat. So how do we handle it?

STRATEGY: Talk to your partner and explain how important it is for you to talk to your children in that language. Even though it may be uncomfortable at times, try to be consistent in using the target language with the children and translate for him.

Come to an agreement, you can choose a time of day when the person who does not understand the minority language will also learn it. Children love to swap roles or play role-playing games. If your partner is willing, take 30 mins a day, or some time at the table where you practice your home vocabulary, playing “I see something you don’t see” or using “a monolingual assistant” (a doll that only speaks Spanish).

Tell your partner to use “duolingo“! It is an excellent free app to learn languages in an easy way investing just 5 minutes a day.

Related Post: 5 Fun Ways to Learn Spanish as an Adult

Mother juggling many resources by holding several books and music player

Little Support From the Community In Which You Live

From the perspective of family language policy we call this “external language control resources”. In other words, we try to find, in the sociolinguistic environment, a support to the upbringing at home. However, sometimes this support is difficult to find. So, what can we do?

STRATEGY: Always ask people at home, no matter if they are bilingual or not. Sometimes we do not know information about courses or offers for children. Search on the internet using the majority language, it is clear that it will give you more results. For example, in Germany some public libraries offer bilingual reading evenings.

If you really can’t find anything, opt for online resources, language courses for children, storytelling, music, etc.

Related Post: Best Spanish Homeschool Curriculums

Little Access to Resources in the Minority Language

It is frustrating to pass by bookstores with precious material and books and see that everything is in the majority language and most of the time ordering that book in Spanish or another language is expensive.

STRATEGY: If there are no books, make them up. Controlling the language environment at home is called “internal control strategies” and they are highly effective in keeping the target language alive.

So far my daughter thinks that some books she has in German are “only in Spanish” and this is because I always translated them in my head and “read them to her in Spanish”, it is not very effective for reading if you always have to translate first and pause, so take the time and if you can translate a couple, paste notes in the book and read your own translations (it worked very well for me).

The materials for printing at home are our allies, there are thousands of free resources depending on age. Vocabulary cards, game boards, etc.

This blog has beautiful downloadable materials. Our friend Claudia Soruco’s Spanish Curriculum Shop gives you printable materials at a very affordable price.

And of course, Corrie’s eBook “Learn Spanish en Casa” gives you lots of ideas. So do not hesitate to invest in these kind of resources that will help encourage the use of your target language.

ebook How to learn spanish

Related Post: 5 Reasons Why your Child isn’t Speaking Spanish

Your Child Refuses to Speak the Minority Language

This is one of the most difficult challenges we face. Sometimes children refuse to speak the target language. There are three components that will help us understand why this happens: 1. The child’s self-confidence. 2. The Language competence that the child has, and 3. the ethnolinguistic vitality that the minority language has, i.e the prestige that that language has in society, as well as the functionality that we give it.

STRATEGIES: Create a monolingual environment between you and your child, i.e speak with him/her in the target language.

Use parental response strategies that do not allow for dilingualism (you use one language and the child another), but make it very clear that you expect the child to speak language X with you without forcing them.

Do it with love and a lot of patience. The happylingual approach is one of the aspects that I touch on most in my parenting talks because it’s a way for kids to relate speaking that target language to something positive and fun. Play is one of your best allies.

Adam Beck reminds us to:

Maintain an effective balance between being serious about your bilingual aim and playful about your approach.

If you need my support for your family’s linguistic plan, you can book a FREE introductory appointment so we can get to know each other and hear about your particular family profile.

Thank you to Rebeca Imberg, linguist and bilingual parenting expert, for partnering with us on today’s post.