The earlier the better. If you are going to be a mother soon, remember that your child can recognize your voice before he or she is born. And before your child is 6 months old, he or she knows the difference between their main language and other languages.
- Try OPOL. OPOL means One Parent, One Language. For example, if you are a native French mother, then you speak French to your child. If your partner or husband is native Russian, then she or he speaks Russian. Each parent speaks his or her native language to the child.
- Try MLAH. MLAH means ‘Minority Language At Home’. In this style, both parents speak the minority language in the house. If you are a Japanese parent with an American spouse living in the USA, both of you would speak Japanese at home. This method is especially good if your child does not have many chances to use the second language outside the house.
- Be consistent. For either OPOL or MLAH, it is essential that both parents are consistent in the language they choose to communicate in with their child. When you start mixing up languages or using these methods only on certain occasions, your child may not become bilingual or your child may become a passive bilingual where he or she understands the language but does not speak it.
- Remember that every child is different. Some studies show that girls start talking earlier than boys but this is not a rule. Also, some boys are better at learning languages than girls. However, children all around the world eventually reach their own level of language competence so patience is critical.
- Be aware of the critical period. The peak of development of your child’s brain is at age 3. After age 5, it becomes increasingly difficult for your child to understand accents. As a teenager, it is almost impossible for your child to have a natural language skill.
- Motivate your child. Give your child a reason to speak the second language. You can create opportunities by finding families who speak the language and plan playdates with them. Hire a nanny or a babysitter who speaks your chosen language and visit cultural centers as part of your weekly routine. You can borrow DVDs, CDs and picture books from the library and travel to countries where the language your child is learning is spoken.
- Motivate yourself. If both of you as parents teach your child your own language, you will bond with your child on so many levels. You give your child a chance to perform better in school and to be more creative, thinking out of the box. It also opens up opportunities for your child’s career with a second language with many colleges offering overseas internship programs etc etc. Your child will grow as a global-minded leader.