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Top Tips, Tricks and Hacks for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids as Non-Native Speakers

Updated: Feb 1



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Are you trying to raise your kids to be bilingual as a non-native speaker of the target language yourself?


An increasing number of parents around the world are trying to do just that, including myself!



In this increasingly globalised, competitive world, being bilingual / multilingual can give your child an edge and a real advantage
In this increasingly globalised, competitive world, being bilingual / multilingual can give your child an edge and a real advantage


In this post and my new YouTube video, I’ll share with you my top tips, tricks and hacks to maximise your chance of success. Keep reading, or check out the video!


Part 1: Is It Possible to Raise Your Child To Be Bilingual as a Non-Native Speaker?


The short answer is, yes, absolutely!




How do I know? Because I've been (successfully, I hope) raising my two children to be trilingual in Mandarin, Russian and English, despite NOT being a native Mandarin speaker myself.





And countless parents around the world are doing the same. In our increasingly globalised world, more and more parents want to give their children an edge by raising them to be fluent in more than one language.


So, first of all, I want to assure you that it's absolutely possible and doable.


However, raising bilingual/trilingual/ multilingual children does bring a set of unique challenges.


In this post, I want to share with you some practical tips to help you tackle these challenges and achieve your goal.


Part 2: Improving Your Own Language Proficiency


While I passionately believe that you can raise a bilingual child as a non-native speaker, I think it's extremely important that you seek to improve or at least maintain your proficiency in the target language.



Improving your own language proficiency is crucial when raising a bilingual child as a non-native speaker
Improving your own language proficiency is crucial when raising a bilingual child as a non-native speaker


This is crucial for a number of reasons.


Firstly, it will help you become more confident in using the language with your child.


Secondly, you will be able to use more sophisticated and grammatically correct language with your child.


As a non-native speaker, I suggest the following "hacks" to improve your own proficiency. These are all tried-and-tested methods that I myself have used and found useful!


Hack number 1: Spend some time reading a book in the target language every day.


As any expert would tell you, there is no better way to improve your vocabulary in any language than reading.



Reading is one of the best ways to improve your language proficiency
Reading is one of the best ways to improve your language proficiency


I also recommend downloading a dictionary App on your phone to look up words quickly.



Download a dictionary app to look up words quickly and build your vocabulary as a non-native speaker raising bilingual children
Download a dictionary app to look up words quickly and build your vocabulary

Most dictionary Apps now enable you to create vocabulary flashcards, which you can review regularly.


Keep doing this for a while, and your confidence in using the target language will certainly grow alongside your vocabulary!


In case your target language is Chinese, I highly recommend the Pleco dictionary app (not sponsored!) - it’s free, and it’s very powerful!

 

Hack number 2: Change the default language on your computer and/or your phone to the target language


Changing the default language on your phone is an easy way to increase your exposure to the target language, useful for raising a bilingual child as a non-native speaker
Changing the default language on your phone is an easy way to increase your exposure to the target language



This small change can significantly increase your exposure to the target language, as most of us spend so much time on our screens these days. 

 

Hack number 3: Read or listen to the news in the target language


Many of us like to catch up on the news on our phones or computers at lunchtime, so why not download a news App in the target language?



Reading or listening to the news in the target language is an enjoyable way to increase language exposure and improve your proficiency as a non-native parent raising a bilingual child
Reading or listening to the news in the target language is an enjoyable way to increase language exposure and improve your proficiency

Or watch news videos in the target language on YouTube? Even 10-15 minutes a day can give your reading and listening skills a real boost.

 

Hack number 4: Enjoy entertainment in the target language during your “me-time”


Do you have a guilty pleasure?



Indulge in entertainment in your target language is an excellent way to unwind while improving your language proficiency as a non-native speaker raising a bilingual child
Indulge in entertainment in your target language is an excellent way to unwind while improving your language proficiency


Perhaps it’s watching music videos, playing video games, or perhaps even binge-watching reality TV shows?


People learn languages much better through engaging content. The technical word for this is “compelling content".


So, seek out content in the target language that interests you, and effortlessly improve your language skills while enjoying precious me-time.

 

Part 3: Creating An Immersive Language Environment For Your Child

 

Now, let’s move on to the next part - for any parent raising their child to be fluent in more than one language, even if they ARE a native speaker, creating an immersive language environment in the target language is absolutely crucial for the child’s language development. Here are some tips and tricks to help you foster language immersion:

 

Tip Number 1: Utilising “human resources”


If grandparents, nannies, or other caretakers are involved, encourage them to speak in the target language.


This expands the immersion beyond the immediate family and significantly boosts your child’s exposure to the target language. An au pair can also be a cost-effective way of achieving this.



mixed-heritage children with their Chinese grandmother
My children with their Chinese grandmother (my mum!)

 

Tip Number 2: Cultural exposure 


Language and culture are inextricably linked. Introduce your children to the culture associated with each language.


This can be through music, movies, traditional celebrations, and cuisine.



In my last video, I used a Hong Kong Chinese family as an example.


Imagine two Hong Kong parents who are native speakers of Cantonese and live in Hong Kong. They’re trying to raise their daughter Amy to be bilingual in Cantonese and English.


A Hong Kong family raising their daughter to be bilingual in Cantonese and English
A Hong Kong family raising their daughter to be bilingual in Cantonese and English

The parents can introduce the culture of the English-speaking world by exploring American or British cultural traditions together - Halloween, for example, is something that fascinates children around the world. So why not read a book about Halloween together?





Or take cuisine as an example.


The family can go to an American diner, read the menu and order food in English together.



Cuisine can be an integral part of exposing your child to the culture associated with your target language
Cuisine can be an integral part of exposing your child to the culture associated with your target language


Anything that brings the language to life in an engaging way makes the language more fun, enjoyable and relevant to your child.

 

Tip number 3: TV and other media


Choose age-appropriate and engaging books, TV shows, and movies in your target language.



Engaging books, TV shows and movies help create language immersion for your child when raising a bilingual child as a non-native speaker
Engaging books, TV shows and movies help create language immersion for your child


In our household, my husband has subscribed to a Russian TV service to enable us to watch Russian programmes on a standard TV set. Many multilingual families I know have a similar setup, so it’s worth investigating these options for your target language in your country of residence.


The Disney+ Channel (NOT sponsored!) is also a popular subscription service for families – their legacy content is available in English, French, Dutch and Spanish, while Disney+ Original content is available in up to 16 languages, which is fantastic for multilingual families out there.


In addition, there are literally countless kids’ programmes on the internet and YouTube – you are bound to find something suitable in your target language. 

 

Tip number 4: Playdates and social activities


Encourage playdates with other bilingual children or families.


This provides an opportunity for your child to use the target language in a social setting - the ability to play and interact with their peers is an extremely powerful source of motivation for children to learn a language.


Playdates and social activities are crucial in boosting your child's motivation when learning another language; raising a bilingual child as a non-native speaker
Playdates and social activities are crucial in boosting your child's motivation when learning another language

I’ll give you an example from my own life - my cousin, who lives with her family in Germany, is also raising her son to be bilingual; in their case, the two languages are German and Mandarin.


Last year, while we were visiting them in Germany, my children and my cousin’s little boy discovered that the only way they could communicate was by speaking Mandarin, and this gave all of them a huge boost in terms of fluency and the desire to speak the language!


My cousin’s son wasn’t fluent at this point, but during our stay, his fluency literally skyrocketed. It was truly amazing to see his progress in real-time!



Mixed-heritage children communicating in Mandarin; encourage social interaction when raising a bilingual child as a non-native speaker
My children with their half-German cousin, communicating in Mandarin!

 

Tip number 5: Language learning apps


Incorporate language learning apps and resources into your child’s screen time.



Make screen-time educational - incorporate language learning into their screen time with apps and other resources
Make screen-time educational - incorporate language learning into their screen time with apps and other resources


Many apps are designed specifically for language immersion for children.


On my website, I’ve made a list of useful learning apps for multilingual families - do check it out!

 

Tip number 6: Foreign travel/ local experiences


If possible, take your child on a trip to a country where the target language is spoken.


If that’s not feasible, explore communities or areas in your locality where the target language is prevalent.


Take us as an example. We sadly haven’t had the chance to visit China with my kids just yet, but they absolutely love it every time we go to Chinatown - seeing Chinese people, Chinese food, and Chinese writing everywhere is really exciting for the kids, and it all brings the language to life.


Once, I even asked my son to order a snack from a stall in Chinatown in Chinese - it gave him such a sense of achievement to be able to use his language skills in real life outside of home!



Chinatown, London, UK. Cultural exposure and experiences can greatly enhance your child's language learning and increase their language exposure. Very important when raising a bilingual child as a non-native speaker.
Chinatown, London, UK. Cultural exposure and experiences can greatly enhance your child's language learning.


A mixed-heritage, trilingual family in Chinatown. Cultural exposure is vital in creating language immersion especially when raising a bilingual child
Family day out in Chinatown, 2021

 

Tip number 7: Language classes


If possible, consider enrolling your child in language camps or classes where they can interact with other children learning the same language.



Language classes and weekend schools can be useful in increasing your child's language exposure
Language classes and weekend schools can be useful in increasing your child's language exposure


This adds a social aspect to language immersion and will help increase their exposure to the target language.


I’ve made a separate



on this subject - check it out for a detailed explanation of the pros and cons of language lessons based on my personal experience.




I hope you found this post helpful! As always, please like, share, comment. If you’ve tried any of the tips and tricks I’ve shared here, please share in the comment below!

 

 

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