You might think it’s strange to ask whether you are expecting a bilingual baby. Surely you can’t know how many languages your child is going to speak! Well, of course you are right, you can not exactly know how it will all turn out with the languages in your family, but I’d say that you can have a pretty good guess at it. What kind of person a child grows up to be is greatly influenced by the parents’ behaviour and mind-set. This also applies to what languages the child will speak. If you as a parent decide early on that your baby is going to be bilingual, the chances are high that this will be the case.
How should you prepare for the arrival of your bilingual baby? First of all, as parents, discuss with each other so that you can agree on your goals – which languages and how fluent? If you are unsure speak to someone who knows about bilingual children and also talk to other parents who have raised bilingual children themselves. Once you have made up your mind let the grandparents and other relatives and friends know about your decision. Why is this important? By telling everyone ahead of time there won’t be any surprises for anyone later on. Note that you might encounter some resistance and questioning, but stay strong – it is your decision, not anyone else’s.
The next thing to do is to plan how you are going to go about raising your baby to become bilingual. Who will speak which language with the baby? How much exposure time will there be for each language? If the baby will hear much less of one language – is there anyone else who could help you with increasing the exposure to that language?
What resources will you need? Just like all the other preparations parents do for a new baby: getting the cot, clothing, nappies etc., it is also good to be ready with the “tools” for passing on your language. Instead of the gifts of oh-so-cute, but oh-so-soon-too-small new-born baby clothes you could ask for books in the languages you have chosen. While you are expecting is also a great time to learn lullabies in your language. – By the way, I will have none of that “I can’t sing” –malarkey: every parent can sing to their child!
It is also important that parents get into the habit of speaking their languages in the home. If you are a couple, one of you might never have used your language in the family home before, as your common language is the one of the other parent. Or the language you speak together might not be either of your native languages, but you have decided to both pass on your language to your baby. Altering the language pattern is a big change in a family, so make speaking your language a habit well before your baby is born. Speak to the bump as much as possible (this goes both for mums and dads!) and practice those lullabies. When you do this, not only do you learn to use the right language with your baby, but everyone else will also get accustomed to you speaking it.
Good luck with your new baby!
May the peace and power be with you.
© Rita Rosenback 2014
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My book “Bringing up a Bilingual Child” will be out in June.