Raising Bi(+)lingual Kids as a Monolingual Parent

Before I say anything else, I will start by saying this is hard. Perhaps nearly impossible. Learning a language requires practice, and if your child is not practicing with you, it is much more difficult have any kind of input on the process.

At the same time, my own children are learning both English and Mandarin, and I have had the dubious pleasure of having my own pronunciation corrected by my daughter in not one but two different languages, as she had learned a fair bit of Hindi before we left India.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that language development is slow when seen from day to day, yet it can seem rapid when viewed from a little distance. Rohan seemed to have difficulty expressing himself, and although he is still not to the level Asha was at his age, he has made incredible progress in the last few months. He makes mistakes in English that may be common, but are also emblematic of errors made by English language learners whose first language is Mandarin.

Based on observations I have made of my students, children with monolingual parents are at a notable disadvantage in learning a second language compared with their peers whose parents are able to practice a second language with them and provide support. Perhaps the most important aspect of this is simply showing kids it’s ok to make mistakes. I practice my mandarin in front of Rohan and Asha, and although this means that Rohan is convinced I can’t really speak his language, they are both willing to speak with me, and make mistakes of their own.

Show your kids that something is important to you, and it will be important to them too.


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