How to raise a bilingual child: Setting a strong foundation

Setting a strong foundation

If you have landed on this page, chances are you are raising or want to raise a bilingual child.  At times, that task can feel overwhelming!  I am here to help you be intentional about your approach and get the most out of your interactions with your children.

To do so, I am launching a three part series to highlight the basics of raising a bilingual child.  Click here to check out part 2 and part 3.

In this first installment of our series we are going to talk about setting a strong foundation! 

The Question

How can I set a strong language foundation for my bilingual child?The answer I do not want to oversimplify what it takes to raise a multilingual little one but if you keep these three things top of mind you will set a strong foundation for their language journey.


In order for our children to use their target language, they need to receive rich vocabulary input in that language. It seems trivial but exposure is the first step.  Keep in mind that for your children to communicate in a given language, they must be exposed to the vocabulary within that language.

The challenge that we have as multilingual parents is that as our children get older they are bombarded with the community language! To counteract this effect, we have to work hard to keep up the pace and increase the amount of exposure to the target language.

Our children’s brains are able to take in greater amount of vocabulary as they get older.  On average, first words are produced around between 11-14 months of age.  In those months, we are as parents are working hard to get our children to say just one or two words.  That soon changes when our children hit the language explosion phase and are learning up to 8 to 9 words a day! Therefore, as their capacity for learning vocabulary grows, so should your exposure to the target language.

Research has shown that children’s language processing abilities are associated with the amount of language that they hear from those around them!  One of the principles of language development is that children need to hear words often to enhance their vocabulary.  That is great news for parents because words are free and simply talking to our children can in fact have a great impact in their ability to learn the target language.

I want to challenge you to think about how much exposure your child is receiving in your target language. 

I don’t want you to guess, I actually ant you to reflect!  Take a look at the next week and jot down just how much your exposure your children are really getting!

I can guarantee that if you increase the exposure to the target language, your children will speak more of it!


Our children must feel the need to communicate in the target language in order for them to do so.  Children like adults are pragmatic.  If they know they can get away with speaking a more dominant language, they will!  We do it too as adults and so we have to work to create an environment to get our children to truly feel that need.

Just like we set expectations about other areas of parenting like behavior and manners, we can also set expectations about language for our children.  Make sure that they know when to speak a given language and to whom

If your children do not currently feel the need to speak the target language to you, you may need to create that need elsewhere.  In the long term, I very much want your children to speak to you in the target language and we are going to work towards that.  But in order for you to have a more immediate and arguably a greater impact, you will have to create that need elsewhere. Think strategically about where and how to create that need.

I am going to challenge you to think about need and what you are doing to create it for your children.

This is the area where I see parents struggle with the most!  They have an easier time creating exposure but the creating the need tends to be much harder. Once again I don’t want you to guess, I want you to reflect.

I  can guarantee that if to create a need to use the target language, your children will speak more of it!


Research has shown children learn best when things are of interest to them.

Children from around the world, for example, tend to have similar “first words.”  Words like mama, dada, bottle, more tend to be produced first because children need them to communicate and because they are relevant for them.

This same concept remains true as our children get older.  When you are racking your brain trying to figure out how to help your children learn a language, focus on the words that are relevant to them.  They are eager to learn these words and are primed to pick them up.

Research has also shown that children with redirected attention tend to have smaller vocabularies.  Yikes! We are working so hard and have the best intentions yet at times we may be redirecting our child’s attention in order to teach them “something else.” 

Do you find that you are redirecting your child’s attention?  Instead of doing so, simply follow your child’s lead.  Take a look about what they are playing.  What are they finding interest?  Make these words your focus!

I can guarantee if you work on words that are relevant to your children, they will speak more of your target language!

To sum up, increase exposure, create a need to use the target language and focus on words relevant to your children and you will set a strong foundation for your children’s language journey. 

Work on these three things and you will see massive growth on their language journey!

But remember not guess, take on the challenge and reflect. 

Take a week to observe how much exposure and need you are providing to your children so you can make the necessary adjustments and take your language journey to the next level!


If you found this episode useful, head on over to iTunes and kindly leave us a rating, a review and subscribe!

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