People often ask me how I - a non-native speaker of Spanish - am managing to raise bilingual children. The answer, though not easy, is really rather simple:
Exposure + Need = Fluency
Exposure to the language, plus the need to speak the language, equals a child who can understand and use the language!
While not difficult, it is far from easy! Let's take a look at each of these variables.
Exposure is how much input your children are receiving in the minority language.
When we talk about exposure, we’re talking about both quality and quantity.
What is Quality Exposure?
Quality language exposure happens when we are face-to-face, eye-to-eye, hand-to-hand with our littles. The language that floats between us as we sing a silly song, observe the beauty of a ladybug, or construct a playdough house. And of course, the beauty of sharing a good book as we snuggle on the couch.
If you’re littles are already understanding and beginning to speak English, chances are they will push back if you just start using a second language. They key to introducing quality language exposure in a minority language is to keep it FUN.
What is Quantity Exposure?
Quantity exposure, not surprising, is simply how much minority language input your littles are hearing. If you're blessed with minority-speaking family, you can set up weekly Skype dates with grandparents. If both you and your partner speak the minority language consider making your home a minority-language-only space.
However, if you, like me, don't have minority-language speaking family there are ways to get creative and make this happen. Here is where we get creative and tap into technology.
Those are just two of the ways I’ve used to increase exposure for my kids.
If you have other ways you’ve increased your children's target language exposure, let me know in the comments!
So we’ve hit on exposure. Let’s move on to need…
Need means your child feels the need to use their minority language.
What is Need?
When we speak of need in the context of raising bilingual children, we mean that the child feels the need to speak their minority language. Any young child exposed to any language for long enough will understand that language.
But fluency is not simply comprehension but also the ability to communicate, to produce the language as well.
To be honest, this has been my number one struggle in our bilingual journey. I can not create the need in and of myself, because I speak English and my children know I do. I can’t create it within my extended family because they all speak English and my children know it.
Here, my friends, is where we call on community and get creative. You can’t raise bilingual children in a bubble, and when you live in a [language] bubble yourself, you have got to get out and ask for help.
Of course we could just move to Latin America and throw our kids in school. That would create the need good and fast. But of course, that’s not feasible us, or I assume for the majority of you. And here is where some good ‘ol parental trickery comes in…
For the formula to work, need does not have to be “real”, it just needs to be “felt”. The babysitter we hired? She spoke English too. I just made sure the kids didn’t know that!
Exposure + Need = Fluency
Although it’s simple, it’s not easy. Like any good thing, you’ve got to work for it.
I'd love to hear ways you are exposing your kids to a second language and creating the need for them to use it!
Take a second and let me know in the comments!