If bilingualism is really important to you, and you really want your child to speak his second language, you should worry about it now, and wait no further, for 5 very good reasons:

1. Once you have established a parent-child communication pattern it’s very difficult and painful to change it. Later you might realise you can’t face the difficulties of imposing this change to your child, and understandably so.

2. For young children it’s normal not to understand when people talk, their vocabulary is limited in either language and they just live with it. Older children have a very good grasp of their first language, hence they lose patience when exposed to a language they don’t understand as well and might even refuse it all together.

As children grow they become more assertive. A young child might just let you talk no matter what you say, a school aged child is more likely to tell you things like “I don’t want to listen to that”, “I don’t want to see this cartoon in, say Croatian, I want to watch an English one”. What will you do then?

4. Young children are more parents focussed but older children give a lot of importance to peers and society in general. The more they grow up the stronger will be their desire to conform. If second language is an optional they might as well drop it.

5. Once they go to school children will be exposed to a very rich majority language input, so unless you have an established pattern for providing rich input also in the minority language the gap between the two languages will grow bigger and bigger by the day.

These are very important, but largely underestimated, points. Most families realise at school age that the bilingualism isn’t quite working the way they expected, and don’t know what to do about it. “I should have been more careful when he was a baby” is the (useless) mantra!

So if you have young children, make sure you seed bilingualism now and wait no further. Here are few steps you should follow to do it:

1) Avoid switching among languages as much as possible, ideally at all

2) Choose the bilingualism pattern you want to follow and stick to it with consistency

3) Be specific about the pattern you choose, make decisions also about specific situations. Which language will you speak to your child at the playground? Which language when you are with your in-laws? How will you answer to your child when she addresses you in the majority language instead of the minority one?

4) Look for opportunities to meet more children and parents who speak your minority language

5) Read to your child in the minority language, reading is a great way of providing rich language input

You might also find this article useful: 5 ways to react when bilingual children mix languages. www.bilingualforfun.com/

Bilingual For Fun is a blog that focuses on Bilingualism and Language Early Learning, offering parents support, experts’ advice and the opportunity to share doubts and best practices. The woman behind Bilingual For Fun is Letizia, who is successfully raising her 2 year old child bilingual in Italian and English in a desperately monolingual society.

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