How to Raise Multilingual Kids

Learning and being fluent in a second language might give your kids the competitive advantage they need once they go out into the real world. But how do we do this? Here are a few ways to do so πŸ˜‰

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By: Ryan Elnar

For the past years, parents have slowly acknowledged the importance of raising bilingual children. In the context of globalization, learning a second language that is widely used in the business world will give your kids that competitive advantage especially when they are ready to face the real world on their own.

So, what is the best second language for your kids? If Google is right, English and Mandarin are spoken by more than 1 billion people each globally. This translates to about 1 in 5 people in the world speaking the English language while 1 in 6 people for Mandarin.

Back when we were in elementary, we had this school policy mandating students to converse only in English with classmates, friends, and teachers. If you were caught speaking in Filipino, a placard will be hung around your neck saying, β€œI spoke Tagalog.” It was like a shame campaign forcing everyone to speak in English.

Of course, many were uncomfortable with such a policy and as a result, I became an even more quiet student who did not participate actively in recitations and even in conversations with my classmates. If I could learn the sign language, I would, just to avoid speaking uncomfortably. I don’t want the same for my children, so the next question is, how do I train my kids to be comfortably bilingual or multilingual?

Undoubtedly, it should all start even before kids get into school. If you want your kids to be fluent in both English and Filipino, you can opt to teach and speak to them in English first in their early years. When watching TV, allow them to only see English programs that are suitable for them like Disney Junior and Nick Jr. channels. Later on, when they are fluent and comfortable with this language, you can slowly switch to speaking to them in Filipino.

This approach is called Minority Language at Home (MLAH) and is what we used with our son, Gavin. From birth up to the age of 4, we exposed him primarily to English (the minority language) and only shifted to Filipino (majority language which the child can learn outside) onwards. One disadvantage is that the majority of kids in his current school service tends to avoid talking to him since he primarily speaks English. Another challenge to anticipate is that he might have difficulty coping with Filipino subjects in school.

I understand that this same approach is used in the homes of some of my Filipino-Chinese friends to ensure that they also learn Mandarin as they grow up. In schools, they would even have Chinese subjects that also teach them not only the language but the alphabets as well.

Another approach is the One Person One Language, wherein each parent speaks different languages. It could be that the mom will speak only in English while dad only in Filipino.

Other approaches include Time and Place and Mixed Language. The former will entail an assigned language during a specific time frame (for example, English in the morning while Filipino in the afternoon), while the latter allows family members to freely choose according to the activity or the situation.

You may choose any of these strategies but know that each may have its own pros and cons. Don’t get me wrong. It ‘s a non-negotiable and important that kids learn their native language or dialect as it simply defines their identity and helps them understand certain practices and traditions.

After all, I do hope that everyone still remembers that August is Buwan ng Wika and as parents, we should ensure that our kids know and can speak our native language.

Ryan Elnar is a proud Filipino daddy blogger. He started Dad and More to share the stories of his journey in raising a family. Ryan believes that beyond formal education, discipline and values are far more important heritage a parent can give to his children.

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