Expat Magazine

Raising a Bilingual Child

By Ovid @OvidPerl

Raising a bilingual child

My wife and daughter, floating down the Seine in Paris

For parents planning on being expats, raising a bilingual child is often one of the benefits. In today's world, speaking more than one language is often the key to getting that opportunity you wanted. Contrary to what many people think, though, speaking a foreign language probably won't get you a job (plenty of people probably speak whatever language you've bothered to learn), but not speaking that language may be the deal breaker.
But back to children. Quite a number of studies have shown that children who are raised bilingual tend to outperform their peers in school, are better at multi-tasking and being bilingual may help protect against Alheimer's. Expat parents are giving their children an immeasurable gift with multiple languages.
Part of the downside of this is that bilingual children tend to acquire vocabulary later than their peers, largely due to having to split their vocabulary between languages. There is, however, one aspect I notice that others tend not to talk about as much: being the parent of a bilingual child. It's a fact that for many couples, the child is going to be better at speaking the primary language of the other parent. I am that other parent.
Our daughter's first "word", if you will, was "thank you". We have been very careful to be appropriate role models for our daughter and it was very rewarding having her learn to say "thank you" when we would hand her something. She's since mostly forgotten that, but we hope to continue with this.
She also often says "please" if she really wants something (though often with prompting), but this is mostly the extent of her English vocabulary. We live in France and our daughter spends a lot of time with a French child minder, so it's natural that French is going to be the first language. I confess that this makes me a touch nervous. Is my daughter going to learn to speak the language better than I? Well, probably, but I have a some time on this one.
The other day she was running from room to room, chasing after a cat and waving a piece of sausage at it, while yelling tiens, tiens (take, take). It was super adorable. She also recently made her first sentence. When she realized that her mother and I weren't going to get her a pretty ball she saw in the store, she pointed at the ball and said รงa moi (that me). That pretty ball is now at home.
I've no idea how well her English will progress. We speak to her in English every evening and many of her books are in English, but we're in France. Her relatives here are all French. She adores watching Petit Ours Brun, a French children's show (each episode is only 3 minutes long. We don't let her watch much). Even though we live in France, somehow it never quite entered my mind that mine would be the minority language.
Update: Ever since I arrived home from work, my wife has been pointing out every English word that our daughter knows. There are quite a few more than I thought!

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