What is the most important rule in raising bilingual children?
The most recommended rule of thumb is to always remain consistent with the language in which one speaks to a child. In this way the child learns to distinguish between the languages spoken at home, in his environment (when there is more than two languages), and the society at large. Providing this consistency allows the child to learn the language well. Consistency is crucial for the child as he begins to associate the parent with the individual language and his progress is measured by how consequent the parent adheres to this rule. This rule is therefore known as the” 1 and 1 Rule” or better yet “One Person, One Language Rule”.
One can better illustrate this rule with the following example
Example: The father speaks to the child always in German, the mother speaks always Spanish. At this point it is not crucial to the child’s language development in which language they communicate with each other but rather, that they individually remain consistent with the language they speak with their child. As with all rules there are exceptions. The exception to the rule is when problems in communication arise and this gap in communication needs to be overcome. Nevertheless, the stricter one applies the rule the better it is for the child to develop his language skills.
Another modification of this rule is the decision of the parents to speak one language at home and another outside the home. The inherent danger in this arrangement is that the “home” language becomes inferior to the societal language.
It is important that the parents establish a rule and adhere strictly to this rule. This is especially important for a parent that speaks more than one language fluently. It is imperative that this parent select the language he/she is most comfortable, especially in conveying his/her feelings. Otherwise your child would get confuss and mixing the languages can be a real problem.
If parents speak several languages, this does not affect the child’s language development. The child learns mainly from the language directed at him; thus parents should not switch languages in a sentence to the child.
Tip: See more about the mixing of language a s a problem here.
Tip: One must remain consistent not only with the language chosen for communication with the child but this must be strictly adhered to during all phases of the child’s development.
Further in Raising Bilingual Children: Older Children and the Learning of Languages
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