Archive for August, 2013

August 25th, 2013

Raising a Bilingual Child: One Activity a Day

My guest blog is by Rina Parbhakar who has a unique perspective on teaching two languages.  Thank-you Rina for sharing your story.

As a bi-lingual, bi-cultural Speech-Language Pathologist, I feel a heavy sense of responsibility. It started the moment I became a mother.  I didn’t want my child to be among the generation of children who don’t understand or speak their home language.  I also didn’t want him  to understand but not speak; responding in English when spoken to in Punjabi.

The first year, while on maternity leave, was simple enough. I talked  and sang to him in Punjabi every chance I got.  He responded in coos and  babbles. That changed when  daycare began. He spoke mostly in English.   I automatically switched to English all the time.

When his third birthday approached I panicked.  Though he was picking up bits and pieces of Punjabi through grandparents and the community, it didn’t seem like enough.  I thought, “There must be more  I can do than simply ask my parents to speak to him in Punjabi a few times a month.

I began taking the advice I give to other parents almost daily in my practice as an S-LP.  I forced myself (mustering every ounce of patience and energy I have left at the end of a long day at work) to ‘turn on’ my Punjabi for one activity we do together each evening.

At first, he asked me to, ‘Stop being a Babaji’ (Punjabi for ‘Grandpa’).  He whined, ‘I don’t want to say it in Punjabi.‘  Though he wasn’t using Punjabi as his first language, he was slowly becoming more aware.

It has been several months  of at least one activity a day in Punjabi. Now he counts the muffin tin liners on his own and  finishes my sentence all in Punjabi. What makes me continue  is the sense of accomplishment and wonder I feel when the magic of dual language development happens before my eyes. He may never be  fluently bi-lingual and his Punjabi may forever be accented by  English, but that’s okay.

The key for me was to see teaching my son another language as a ‘privilege’ rather than a ‘burden,’ and to have fun with it.

These are activities I’ve tried that might work for you too:

  • Comment on things outside during the car ride home
  • Label body parts during bath time
  • Talk about food during dinner preparation
  • Sing songs in your language
  • Listen to music in your language
  • Play games in your language