As one American comedian (M. Berle) said: ‘If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.’
It is very much a quote that gives you the key idea how bilingual parenting works.
You as a bilingual parent living abroad have a great opportunity to give your child one of the most amazing gifts they can get: learn an extra language for free!
Or in other words – become bilingual, how lucky’s that!
BUT the trouble is that you’ll be disappointed if you wait for the bilingual ‘opportunity’ to knock. Your native language is unfortunately not hereditary. What a shame, I know!
You are the one who has to build the bilingual ‘door’.
And unlock it, open it, grab your to-be-bilingual baby’s hand and walk them through it…
So what is the key that ‘unlocks the bilingual door’?
When I moved to the UK years ago, I thought I had a good command of English.
I still remember the day I had to make a phone call to my bank. A lady with a very strong northern accent answered the phone and I didn’t understand a word she was saying!
Ok, I did understand about every fourth or fifth word… You can imagine, with every word that lovely helpful person from Liverpool was saying, my self-confidence to speak English was getting close to zero.
I am sure that you as a foreigner living abroad know very well how hard it is to learn a foreign language. Especially, to get to a certain level of understanding and speaking it.
The passive understanding is always much quicker and easier than the speaking.
Whenever I was learning a foreign language, I was very impatient. (Impatience is my second name, you got it!)
I wanted to ‘suck in’ the language as soon as possible so that I could socialize with its native speakers.
But sometimes to get that level before you can start to communicate in another language successfully can be quite an ordeal: You have to learn lots of complicated grammar, rules, exceptions, a changing pronunciation… tonnes of things!
Technically speaking , whenever anyone is learning to (speak any language foreign or their own) they have to go through the same process: one has to learn tonnes of things at the same time, BUT when you are learning a language as a bilingual baby you don’t really break the process down into those steps.
You just COPY the others in what they are doing and voila – you start talking! Babies have no doubts like: ‘Hang on, did I use the correct tense? Did I keep the right word order?’ As you can see, the bilingual baby is all right, she just goes for it. What you have to ‘worry about’ as a bilingual parent who is teaching her, is to give the child ENOUGH opportunities or rather as MANY OPPORTUNITIES AS POSSIBLE to hear your native language and COPY it.
And how do you go about it?
- Make sure that your partner likes and supports the idea of raising a bilingual baby.
- Talk to your baby in your native language 99% of the time. Be consistent, stick with it!
- Create a stimulating bilingual home environment to help you. The good news is, that you are not a castaway, you’ve got lots of great tools at hand like TV, DVDs, CDs, radio, music, children’s books etc.
- Give your children opportunity to be in touch with other speakers of your native language as often as you can, so meet up with your friends who speak your native language
- Take your children on holiday where your native language is spoken, be it your home country or elsewhere.
That’s your 5 keys steps. Now you know how to ‘unlock the bilingual door.’