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5 Extremely Common Mistakes to Avoid if You Want Your Child to Be Bilingual/ Trilingual/ Multilingual

Are you raising your child to be bilingual/ trilingual/ multilingual but are feeling frustrated at their lack of progress?

Are you wondering if you’re doing something wrong, or maybe your child is?

If you find yourself in this position, you’re not alone.

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Many parents embark on the journey of raising bilingual children with the best intentions but often hit roadblocks. The good news is that by avoiding a few common mistakes, you can significantly enhance your child’s bilingual experience.

As a mother raising trilingual children and a language professional with years of experience, I’ve seen these pitfalls firsthand. Let’s dive into the top five mistakes to avoid when raising a bilingual child.

Mistake 1: Flip-Flopping Between Languages

One of the most common mistakes parents make is switching between languages too frequently. You might have heard people ask if raising a child with more than one language confuses them.

The truth is, speaking multiple languages won’t confuse your child.

However, constantly switching between languages without clear boundaries can.

Imagine a scenario I witnessed at a playground: a mother was speaking to her son in English, then abruptly switched to German, and back again. This inconsistency can bewilder a child, leading them to default to the majority language—usually the language they hear most often outside the home.

To avoid this, pick a primary language and stick to it.

It’s crucial to establish clear guidelines about who speaks which language and in what context.

Consistency is key. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever switch languages, but it should be done in a structured way.

Mistake 2: Overusing the Majority Language

Closely related to the first mistake is relying too much on the majority language.

My husband and I use the One Parent One Language (OPOL) approach: I speak Chinese to our children, and he speaks Russian.

However, we found ourselves using English more often than we realised. This not only reduced our children’s exposure to our target languages but also made it easier for them to respond in English.

Consistency in using the target languages is vital. Ensure that your child gets ample exposure to the languages you want them to learn. Create an environment where there is a clear need for them to use those languages.

Mistake 3: Blaming Your Child

It’s easy to get frustrated when your child doesn’t seem to be making progress.

I once got so frustrated with my son’s slow progress in Chinese that I called him “dumb.” This was a terrible mistake! The issue wasn’t with him; it was with how I was creating (or failing to create) the right conditions for learning.

The key is to provide consistent exposure and a genuine need for your child to use the target language.

Your child’s language development is largely influenced by the environment you create. Take ownership of this responsibility and focus on making learning a positive and engaging experience.

Mistake 4: Relying on Technology

In an age where technology is ubiquitous, it’s tempting to let screens do the heavy lifting. While stories of people learning languages through TV and videos are appealing, children learn best through two-way interactions.

Studies have shown that young children pick up languages faster when they engage in live, interactive sessions compared to passive watching.

Television and online videos can be useful tools, but they should complement, not replace, real-life communication. Engaging with your child in the target language through conversations, games, and daily activities is far more effective.

Mistake 5: Giving Up

The final and most fatal mistake is giving up.

Raising bilingual children is challenging, and it can be easy to get discouraged.

However, the benefits of bilingualism—enhanced cognitive abilities, better cultural understanding, and improved communication skills—make the effort worthwhile.

If you’re committed to raising a bilingual child, don’t give up! Persistence and consistency will pay off in the long run. Seek out resources and support, such as family language planners or books on bilingual parenting, to help you stay the course.

In conclusion, raising a bilingual child requires dedication and a well-thought-out approach. By avoiding these common mistakes and maintaining a consistent, engaging, and supportive environment, you can help your child thrive in multiple languages. Remember, the journey is just as important as the destination, and the rewards of bilingualism are well worth the effort.


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