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Top 5 Tips For Raising a Bilingual Baby/ Trilingual Baby

Updated: May 1

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Are you hoping to raise your baby to be fluent in more than one language?


You’re in the right place.


At Multilingual Family Hub, we offer practical tips and advice to parents who want to raise bilingual, trilingual or multilingual kids, no matter what stage they are at.


Raising a bilingual baby or trilingual baby? You're in the right place!
Raising a bilingual baby or trilingual baby? You're in the right place!


In the journey of raising multilingual children, the foundations are laid long before their first words. The first two years of a child’s life are particularly crucial in language development, as a child’s brain is at its most malleable and receptive to language acquisition.


In this blog post, I’d like to share my top 5 tips for parents who are aspiring to raise a bilingual or even trilingual baby, offering practical advice that you can implement straight away!


Without further ado, let’s get started. You can also check out the YouTube video I made on this very topic!


 

Tip 1. Language Learning Starts in the Womb


To readers who are still expecting their first baby: congratulations, now is the perfect time to start!


Remember: Language acquisition starts before birth.


Studies have shown that babies can recognise their mother’s voice while still in their mother’s womb. This early exposure to the melody and rhythm of language sets the stage for future linguistic development.


Language acquisition starts when the baby is still in its mother's womb - Start your multilingual parenting journey during pregnancy to prepare for raising a bilingual baby!
Language acquisition starts when the baby is still in its mother's womb - Start your multilingual parenting journey during pregnancy to prepare for raising a bilingual baby!


In short, babies begin to make sense of language and take their first baby steps towards speech and socialisation before they’re even born.



By the end of their first year, they no longer respond to phonetic elements peculiar to non-native languages.


That’s why those pre-natal months are so important.


Start talking to your baby in your target language today to help your baby familiarise themselves with mummy’s loving voice and the sounds of the language you’d like them to acquire. By taking these small baby steps, you’ll be laying the groundwork for language acquisition further down the line!


Tip 2: Start Planning Your Language Strategy During Pregnancy


As with everything else in life, it always helps to have a plan – that’s why it’s advisable to start thinking about how you and your partner will go about raising your child to speak more than one language.


Planning begins during pregnancy, as parents consider which languages they want their child to learn and how they will implement this multilingual environment. It’s essential to discuss and establish a language strategy that aligns with the family's cultural background, values, and lifestyle.


Broadly speaking, there are three main strategies commonly adopted by parents who wish to raise bilingual, trilingual, or multilingual children. I delve into this topic in much greater detail in my video and blog post, but for the purpose of this post, here’s a quick summary of the three strategies.





i. One Parent One Language


The "One Parent, One Language" method involves each parent consistently speaking to their child exclusively in their respective language. Typically, these would be each parent’s native language, but it’s not necessarily the case.


One Parent One Language is often the preferred method of parents raising trilingual children. Our family is one such example: I speak to the children exclusively in Mandarin, while my husband speaks to them exclusively in Russian. They get English from the wider community.


ii. Majority Language at Home


The "Minority Language at Home" method involves using a language other than the majority language of the community within the home environment. This approach is aimed at ensuring the child's proficiency in a language that might otherwise be less prevalent in their surroundings.


Notably, ML@H is a very effective strategy for raising bilingual children. According to a number of studies, up to 70% of families who practise ML@H succeed in passing on the minority language to their children.


iii. Time and Space Strategy


Using the Time and Place strategy, the parents would separate the languages used with the child either by time or by place (or both), which means that, in theory, there’s no upper limit to the number of languages used.


While it’s a good idea to decide early on which strategy you’d like to adopt, parents should also bear in mind that nothing is set in stone, of course! Your family’s language strategy will evolve alongside your child’s needs, growth, development, and the family’s circumstances. Think of it as a blueprint to help you get started.


You can also download my FREE language strategy planner to start formulating a customised language strategy for your family!


Tip 3: Introducing Your Target Language(s) from Day One


One common question I get is: How soon should I introduce the target language? Will exposing my baby to more than one language from day one confuse them?


The short answer is: No, it won’t confuse them, and you can absolutely start introducing the target language(s) from day 1!


Babies are uniquely equipped to learn two or more languages from birth without confusion due to their remarkable cognitive flexibility and adaptability. Their brains are wired to distinguish and process different sounds and patterns, making it natural for them to pick up multiple languages simultaneously.


Additionally, babies are highly attuned to social cues and context, allowing them to effortlessly switch between languages based on who they are communicating with, whether it's a parent, caregiver, or another family member.


For these reasons, I encourage parents to embrace bilingualism (or trilingualism, if that applies to you) from the day your child is born.


Embrace bilingualism from day 1 - Exposing your baby to more than one language from birth will not confuse them; on the contrary, it will give them the best chance of acquiring more than one language in the most natural way.
Embrace bilingualism from day 1 - Exposing your baby to more than one language from birth will not confuse them; on the contrary, it will give them the best chance of acquiring more than one language in the most natural way.

Start speaking to them in your chosen language. Start looking at board books together in your language together. Start singing nursery rhymes to your baby and watch them delight in the beautiful sounds of your chosen language, made even more special by their parents’ uniquely loving voices.


Don’t think of this as “teaching” your baby a language. Think of this as an opportunity to strengthen and nurture that precious and natural bond between parent and child, with language benefits as a bonus!


Tip 4: Don’t Worry About the Majority Language


In multilingual households, there is often a predominant or majority language spoken in the community.


For example, my husband and I are raising our children to speak Mandarin and Russian while living in the UK, an English-speaking country. In our case, English is the “majority language”, or “community language”.


Many parents are understandably concerned that speaking to their child exclusively in the minority language will hinder the child’s ability to function in wider society, for example, to communicate with their peers and teachers at daycare.


However, based on my own experience and observation, these worries are mostly unwarranted. Almost without exception, children will always learn to speak the majority language spoken by their peers at school.


Children will always learn the majority language of the wider community effortlessly. Focus on the minority language!
Children will almost always learn the majority language of the wider community effortlessly. Focus on the minority language!


Take my daughter as an example. When she started going to nursery/ daycare part-time, aged 20 months, I was slightly concerned that she might struggle to communicate with her friends and the staff at her nursery. At this point in time, she interacted with me only in Mandarin, and I don’t remember hearing her speak English often, if at all.

However, my concerns quickly dissipated as she seamlessly adjusted to daycare, effortlessly picking up English within a few months.


This is the pattern I see repeatedly with many other multilingual families – despite the parents’ worries and the difficulty a child might initially face when trying to learn the majority language, the child will inevitably acquire the majority language with little effort.


Don’t take my word for it—anecdotal evidence isn’t science, after all! Several studies have demonstrated that children raised bilingually are able to successfully learn the majority language of their community.



Another study conducted by Sharon Unsworth on the other side of the Atlantic in 2016 looked at English-speaking children in Wales who were learning Welsh as a second language. It found that these children were able to achieve high levels of proficiency in both languages, demonstrating that exposure to a minority language did not hinder their acquisition of the majority language.


These studies suggest that children raised in bilingual environments are not only capable of learning the majority language of their community but can often reach similar levels of proficiency as monolingual children.


In short, in most cases, it is the minority language that requires support and reinforcement at home. In fact, children often lose their home language a year or so after starting school.


So, my advice to expectant parents is to focus on the home language/ minority language, safe in the confidence that the majority language will come effortlessly from the community.


Tip 5: Embrace Play-Based Learning


Have you noticed that kittens and puppies love playing just as much as human children do? Play is a crucial part of the learning process for all juvenile mammals, and this phenomenon is particularly pronounced in humans, who, as a species, are characterised by an exceptionally long childhood.


In recent years, researchers have increasingly converged on the conclusion that play isn’t only beneficial to children’s physical and mental development but is, in fact, absolutely crucial.


Playing is not mere entertainment - a vast body of research has demonstrated the crucial importance of play in children's learning and development. Incorporate play-based activities in your baby's language learning!
Playing is not mere entertainment - a vast body of research has demonstrated the crucial importance of play in children's learning and development. Incorporate play-based activities in your baby's language learning!


Contrary to the widely held belief that play is mere “entertainment”, there is now consensus that play is a vital component of learning, offering children a natural and engaging way to explore, experiment, and develop crucial skills.


Research in this area is extensive and constantly advancing, so let us just look at a couple of relevant studies.


According to Vygotsky's socio-cultural theory, play provides a zone of proximal development where children can interact with more knowledgeable others and scaffold their learning (Vygotsky, 1978). Additionally, Pellegrini and Smith (1998) emphasise in their research that play fosters cognitive, social, and emotional development, citing its role in promoting problem-solving abilities, language development, and emotional regulation.


These academic perspectives, among others, highlight the significance of play in creating rich and holistic learning experiences.


Therefore, at the baby stage, parents should incorporate lots of play-based learning activities into daily routines, which will make language learning enjoyable and natural for children.


It is absolutely not necessary to make them sit in front of a textbook or attempt to hold a pen when they can barely walk!


Play-based learning can take various forms, such as games, songs, storytelling, and sensory play.


In a separate blog post and video, I discuss seven free and simple activities that parents can do with their baby or toddler to boost their language learning—check it out!





 

Conclusion


I hope you have found this blog post helpful. There is no better time to start your multilingual parenting journey than pregnancy and the baby years – start today and help your child unlock their language potential and reap the manifold benefits that bilingualism and multilingualism can bring!


You’ll find plenty more useful and free resources on this website and my YouTube channel. Also, check out my book Bilingual and Trilingual Parenting 101, which guides parents through the process of raising multilingual children step-by-step, written in an easy-to-read and highly accessible style.



Bilingual and Trilingual Parenting 101 - the perfect guide for parents raising bilingual babies!
Bilingual and Trilingual Parenting 101 - the perfect guide for parents raising bilingual babies!


Also, check out My Everyday Life, a bilingual picture book my sister and I have created that multilingual families can easily incorporate into their daily reading routine to bring the joy of reading in two languages into their everyday life!



My Everyday Life - the perfect bilingual picture book for parents raising bilingual babies!
My Everyday Life - the perfect bilingual picture book for parents raising bilingual babies!

Thank you for reading today’s post. Please share in the comment section below if you have any questions or suggestions!

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