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  • Nene Bilingüe Mami

Raising Bilingual Children: Creating the Environment for Language Learning


There are differences in how children learn languages compared to how adults do the same. We tend to speak to children using simple sentences and usually providing many visual cues. For example, reading books in a target language to children allows them to hear the words and see the story develop through illustrations or even via intonation of our voices. In addition, children don't face the amount of emotional pressures of learning a language because its usually done so in a social friendly way. It is important to take note of normal linguistic development to understand how it is that children learn to speak. Children who are exposed to two or more languages from infancy will view those languages as natural means of communication.


A baby's linguistic development starts when they begin to experiment and make sounds without particular meaning. These are cooing sounds, followed by vowel sounds, and later developing into consonant-vowel repeated sounds, such as "ma, ma, ma." At about a year, children begin saying words (usually nouns) and begin giving meaning to them. At or around age two children go through a vocabulary spurt and soon they start to put two and three words together to make phrases. From here children continue learning grammatical rules and begin to apply these. BILINGUAL CHILDREN WHO ARE EXPOSED TO TWO OR MORE LANGUAGES FROM INFANCY WILL HIT THE SAME MILESTONES AS A MONOLINGUAL CHILD. Below is a great chart with details of language development by age provided by ican.org.uk


To help foster your child's bilingual language development I have gathered a few tips to help create a rich language environment, organized by age:




Babies + Toddlers (0-2)

-Direct meaningful speech towards your child, always use complete words and minimize baby-talk

-Encourage family and friends to speak to your children in the target language

-Engage your child with toys, props, and visuals that attract and keep their attention

-Read stories acting out voices and pointing out details in illustrations.

-For child care, find someone who can speak to your child in the target language

-Find and read "First Word Books" which are filled with lots of everyday objects, shapes, animals. You can always write in the translation and just like that, you have bilingual first word books




Preschoolers (3-5)

-Daily routine: sing songs, alphabet, numbers in the target language

-Read picture books in the target language and engage with these books (Bilingüe Buddies are perfect to gather ideas)

-Playdates in the target language. Provide sensory rich toys for them to interact with

-Games in the target language including flashcards

-Watch cartoons in the target language

-Use crafts as both language and cultural learning opportunities

-Play children songs in the target language at home, in the car, or listen through headphones

-Pause after you ask questions, allowing time for them to respond

-Use and introduce specific vocabulary (ie. instead of "look at the bird" you can say look at the...pigeon, swallow, parrot etc.)

-Repeat new words multiple times

-Attach an experience when introducing new or more complex words




School Age (5+)

-Teach and use puns, riddles, sayings, cartoons, and jokes in the target language

-Read with your child and have them read to you in the target language. Always allowing them to choose the books (with help finding books at their reading level)

-Make friends with children who also practice your target language

-Using a newspaper or magazine in the target language, find headlines, and discuss them

-Regular activities in the target language. Can be something you do at home (such as cooking and watching movies) or attend a langue studio/classes

-Find music or artists the family will enjoy (in the target language)

-Pen pal who can speak the target language

-If you have family who lives in a country that speaks your target language plan a trip to visit, or learn about this place together

-Play games with rhyming words

-Encourage them to use new words or synonyms


So there you go. The list goes on and on. As always I love to hear what others in the bilingual community do to help their nenes be bilingual.


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