Children can learn to speak many languages -- and the younger they are, the faster they learn. According to Bilingual Parenting there is even a window between 3 to 5 years old when they can even pick up native accents, and their mind is so much like a sponge that they pick things up very quickly and effortlessly.
But even after that age, kids can still become fluent with enough exposure and practice. And that’s something important to remember while we raise kids who are fluent in both English and Filipino. Here are some tips for raising a bilingual child who can excel in every subject – and situation – because he can speak both languages well.
In my case, I do storytelling with my son Harvey before we go to sleep. We plan it every Monday,Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. On some days I read English books, and others I read Tagalog stories that I heard during my childhood (i.e., Maria Makiling, Unggoy at Pagong). Sometimes I let him choose what will be the main topic, then I will create a story from it. Sometimes I spin a story based on what happened that day.
Kids love hearing stories, especially the topics they’re interested in. It can help their imagination and vocabulary. I even heard Harvey sharing the stories with his friends.
Take advantage of that Window of Language Development
Many experts say that zero to 7 years old are the critical years of learning. Your child’s brain is like a sponge that absorbs lessons faster and with less fear and resistance. Once they attend elementary school, balancing two languages might be difficult.
The earlier your child gets exposed to both of the languages (Tagalog and English), the better. Just focus on exposing him to the languages, and on becoming comfortable using them. There is enough time later on to correct their grammar and pronunciation.
Set a strategy
I told my children that every time I talk to them in English, they should answer me with English, and if I talk to them in Tagalog, then they answer in Tagalog, too. You can also assign roles: you speak English, your yaya speaks Tagalog. Or, you can use Tagalog conversationally, but use pure English when you review homework. The most important thing to remember is exposure: your child spends equal amount of time speaking both languages.
Build your own library at home
Invest in books in both languages. Some picture books have both an English and Tagalog translation. Or, you can provide your own subtitles: read an English book, and then repeat the sentences in simple Tagalog.
Teach languages in different and interesting ways
Children learn language by speaking to other people. Encourage experiences and interactions that expose them to the language. Sometimes, I will sing a song that has both an English and Tagalog version (like Happy Birthday). When you go to the supermarket, point out the vegetables and give their English and Tagalog names. Let them make friends with children who speak other languages or dialects, and encourage your yaya to speak her own dialect with your child.
Encourage your child to express ideas and questions
The most important thing in language development is to encourage your child to talk – whatever language he may use. Let him freely ask questions and talk about his experiences. Don’t overcorrect him by saying “Say it in Tagalog!” or correcting his grammar. Instead, just casually repeat what he said in the desired language or with correct words or sentence structure. “Oh, you mean…” or “So, you want me to…”
Don’t obsess – let them express!
Children always ask questions. In my personal experience, whenever I speak in Tagalog, Harvey asks me what I just said to him. Then I take the opportunity to translate what I said to English. He will then be able to understand and remember it.
Learning is a journey, and that applies to language and all the skills and concepts your child will develop over the years. Just give encouragement, support and exposure. It is not just about raising a bilingual child, but about developing and nurturing curiosity, communication skills, and confidence.
About The Writer
Rayrose is a beauty, mom, and lifestyle blogger based in Manila. Her love for makeup and dedication to learn more about parenting and share it to her readers enabled her to create her blog, Dashing Mom. Check out her blog, Dashing Mom for her daily life as a mom, makeup reviews, tips, and advice. Get inspired to live a life of dreams. Join her growing group of followers on Facebook and Instagram, and subscribe to her blog and YouTube channel.