5 tips for parents of bilingual children

Melissa Baralt, assistant professor of applied linguistics in the FIU Department of Modern Languages.

Melissa Baralt, assistant professor of applied linguistics in the FIU Department of Modern Languages.

With the use of Spanish language in American politics gaining recent national media attention, the use of the two languages has sparked debates across political stages, school boardrooms and dinner tables throughout the country.

The Hispanic-American community makes up nearly 18 percent of the total population in the United States, with growth expected to continue in the coming decades. In fact, the U.S. is now the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, second to Mexico.

The continuous exchange of products, ideas and culture is driving the need for bilingual educators, professionals and decision-makers in an increasingly globalized society. FIU linguist Melissa Baralt, who is studying the effects of bilingualism on the neurodevelopment of preterm infants, offers five tips for parents to promote successful bilingualism in their kids starting at home.

  1. Talk to your child in Spanish. Children are constantly exposed to English at school, with their friends and peers, etc. It is important they have Spanish language input as well. With younger children, rich conversational interaction is essential. You can play games, sing songs, tell stories, act, count and read books together. Focus on having fun in the language, not on a perfect grammatical outcome. In order to learn, know and maintain Spanish, children need to be exposed to it as much as possible.
  2. Make sure your child responds in Spanish when spoken to in Spanish. It is one thing to understand a language, but another thing to be able to speak the language. Make sure your child responds in Spanish when addressed in Spanish. This is crucial in promoting successful bilingualism. As a parent or caregiver, you can assist the child by asking, “How might we say that in Spanish?” and giving them language support. Make it fun, and help him or her be conscious of trying to stay in the target language.
  3. Read in Spanish. Some of the greatest benefits of bilingualism occur when a person has strong literacy skills in both languages. Reading in Spanish will provide your child with a written mode in addition to an oral, spoken mode. There are many online resources where parents can download free children’s books in Spanish, such as https://www.readconmigo.org. The public library system is also a good source of free children’s books in Spanish.
  4. Talk to your child about the importance of using both languages. Remind your child of why using both languages is important. Here are some suggestions of things to remind children of the benefits of bilingualism: You will be able to impress others by saying you know two languages. You can make more friends. You can meet more people from around the world. You can help other people communicate who don’t speak both languages. You can get a good job. You feel good and proud of yourself
  5. Promote bilingual pride identity within yourself and in your child as well. Children learn best by example. According to Baralt, you should never be ashamed of speaking Spanish. If you show that you are proud to be bilingual, your child will too. A proud bilingual identity allows for more use of the language.

Baralt reminds parents that in order to truly be bilingual, one has to use both languages each day. She says it’s never too late to learn a new language; it’s never too late to start using two languages each day; and it’s never too late to promote bilingualism with yourself and your children.

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