Bilingual Child Raising Methods: Minority Language at Home

Great method to raise a child in two languages. Both parents speak the minority language at home, i.e. to the child and to each other.
Family

Minority language at home means that the minority language is the only language used within the nuclear family. In other words, both parents speak the minority language at home, to the child and to each other. The child learns the majority language from its surrounding environment, such as friends, grandparents and all other people.

This approach may provide better results if the child has no other contact with the minority language and is completely surrounded by majority language environment. Example: a child in United States, both parents speak French natively, but there are no French in the neighborhood. In this example, French is the minority language, and English is the majority language.

Full application of this method requires that parents speak to each other in the minority language. Partial application means that parents speak the majority language to each other and minority language to their child/children. Both methods have proved to work and provide excellent results, provided the chosen method is applied consistently and without exceptions.

Minority Language at Home in Intentional Bilingual Education

In intentional (artificial) bilingual education, one or both parents is not a native speaker of the minority language. Yet only the minority language is used at home with this method. Example: a child in United States, with both parents native North Americans, who have good command of French, but there are no French in the neighborhood. In this example, French is the minority language, and English is the majority language.

This approach is more demanding than One Parent One Language method, and it can seem even arduous. Parents usually do not know the minority language lullabies and nursery rhymes. They must spend time to learn them.

Furthermore, since (in One Parent One Language method) it initially feels unnatural for one parent to speak his second language to his baby, it initially feels even more unnatural or strangely embarrassing when both parents speak their second language to their child. Real-world experience shows that these feeling go away completely in about 6-12 month. Any idea of speaking to the child in parents’ native tongue then becomes unnatural. Several parents report slight tendency to speak their second language to all children.

Interestingly, this tendency was used by at least one parent as a “white lie” answer to his daughter’s question: “Why do you speak to me in English, Daddy, and to others in Slovak”. Father replied: “I can only speak in English to babies.” Later on, when his daughter grew older and wiser, his white lie was uncovered, but his daughter did not resent it since he was able to justify himself by explaining the advantages of the second language and giving her the choice to go back to Slovak (his native language), which she promptly refused.

During the first few years of the child’s life, the minority language will be dominant. This situation will be reversed around the age of 3, thanks to the increased exposure to the majority language environment.

Both parents must know the second language very well. They must also expect to spend extra effort improving his knowledge while their baby grows up. To help your baby learn the second language effortlessly, a complete environment in the second language must be created: films, books, even TV shows if possible. This will provide immersive experience with culture and context of the language. These tasks require time. But the experience is very rewarding for both parents.

Even if your command or accent in you second language are slightly imperfect, you will do no harm to your kid even if your accent is somewhat imperfect. Will your baby be perfectly bilingual? It depends on many factors. Your future situation may change and you may spend less time with your baby. But even then your baby will speak the second language very well and it will be worth your time a thousand times.

While it is OK if your accent is slightly distorted, grossly incorrect accent is a no-no. You do not have to worry if you had native speakers for teachers. Alternatively, if you watched much TV or movies in your second language, your accent may be very good indeed. But you should review your accent with a native speaker.

In Germany, there was a whole generation of kids brought up by their native German mothers in English. After WWII, it was cool to speak English due to U.S. occupation of Germany. Unfortunately these mothers spoke English with a strong accent and incorrect vocabulary. Consequently, these kids learned a very bad kind of English. Be sure to get an independent appraisal of your language skills before you embark on raising your offspring in your second language.

Majority language is the language that most people speak to you child. Minority language is the language that only a few people speak to your child. Example: a child in United States, with both parents native North Americans, who have good command of French, but there are no French in the neighborhood. In this example, French is the minority language, and English is the majority language.