Do: Teach your child your language! Don’t: Be afraid that learning two languages will be “bad” for him! Many parents with young children wonder if they should teach their home language to their child, whether it is a foreign language more commonly spoken in the community or not. The concern around teaching a second language is especially true for parents whose children have been diagnosed with a developmental delay. Recent research affirms that many children, regardless of their diagnosis, whether it’s a language delay due to autism or Down Syndrome, can speak as well in two languages as their peers with the same type of developmental delay who speak only one language. So, the first step in raising your child to be bilingual is to know that by teaching him a second-language, you are not going to delay him any further. In fact, you will be giving him more opportunities to talk because he will be able to talk at home and in the community.
Do use real life situations to teach your child language. Don’t rely on technology or toys! This is especially true for technology and toys that focus on teaching the ABC’s and colors. Think about the language you would want to learn if you were visiting a foreign country. If you were in France for a month, would you want to know the alphabet, colors, and shapes in French or would you be better off learning the names of your favorite foods, activities, and how to find a bathroom? Always think about teaching useful language. Studies have shown that babies who are spoken to in English but exposed to Chinese through t.v. are no better “attuned” to Chinese than babies with zero Chinese exposure. Meaning their brain hasn’t mapped any of the Chinese sounds and shows no recognition of them. Babies learn through human interaction, period. See my blog post about when technology may be appropriate.
Do model full sentences for your child in one language. Don’t constantly translate back and forth. If you are one of those parents (or therapists) who wants to make sure your child is learning both languages, take a few deep breaths and take it slow. Translating everything you say from one language to the other does not model real-life communication. It does not allow your child time to absorb the language she is hearing. You have to teach your child at the rate they can learn. Maybe you spend the morning talking about breakfast in Chinese and then spend dinner discussing food in English. You can even speak in both languages during each meal without translating back and forth. An example of translating back and forth is looking at a book with your child and talking about everything in both languages, “La casa es grande!” The house is big!” You are repeating everything in both languages. This has not been shown to be helpful for learning language period. The important thing is that the language has meaning in that moment and that you are using language that is at the right level for your child. If you don’t know what I mean by the right level for your child, talk with your speech therapist to find out what his language goals should be and how to meet your child where he’s at.
Do use your child’s interests to teach them! Don’t pressure them or yourself!
Do give your child opportunities to use your home language by surrounding them with activities and friends and family who speak your home language. Don’t pressure yourself to make them learn. This will create an atmosphere of anxiety and as far as I’ve ever seen, anxiety has never helped in the learning of language. Learn strategies from your speech therapist to help your child to understand and use language and then use these strategies in whatever language you feel most comfortable speaking, or in both languages if you are comfortable speaking both.
Do talk with your speech therapist and other therapists who will be supporting you. Talk to the specialists working with your child about your goals language goals for your child. The more positive support in your community the better the outcomes.