3 Strategies for Raising Bilingual Kids

There are several ways a family can pursue bilingualism. However, I remember reading once that the worst approach is to randomly speak to them in both languages, going back and forth any 'ole time. Whoops!

If I'm honest, "Spanglish immersion" probably best describes our bilingual style. Billy switches back and forth between English with me and Spanish with the kids. But Gabriella ain't no fool. She refuses to respond to him (or sometimes even listen) in Spanish because "Papi knows English."

And going back and forth for Billy can be tiring and confusing, so he, too, often speaks the them in English. And then there's me. Not really fluent in Spanish, but that doesn't stop me from uttering, "Cuidado con tu coco!" ("Watch your head!" or literally... "Careful with your coconut!")

But if you want to be a little more strategic with raising your bilingual kids, here are some strategies I've read that help kids distinguish between the two languages. We have always claimed #1, but as it becomes more challenging, we're considering branching out.

#1 - OPOL (One Parent, One Language)

This is often the go-to method for bilingual couples, since each one can speak in their first language with the kids. I've even heard of couples who, even though they share a first language, will have one spouse speak in a second language to accomplish this method. It's highly regarded as a great way to teach two languages. For us, though, I'm just saying... it's hard.

#2 - Choose a Location

Rather than associating language with a particular person, you can attach a geographic marker to the code switching. I feel like when I read this method, the example they gave was "speak the minority language in the family library." However, if you don't have a library in your home, you can pick something else.

You might consider the backyard or kitchen or parent's bedroom. Hey, with that last one, at least if they don't want to speak in the second language, they might give you just the tiniest bit of privacy in your life. If you figure out how to make that happen, let me know!

Of course, it doesn't have to be in your own home. Perhaps church or the coffee shop or, hey, a community library could be good spots for language practice. Ideally, it should be a location you visit frequently.

#3 - Choose a Time

This strategy is similar, selecting a set time that kids can expect a switch in languages. You can do something as extensive as "On Tuesdays, we speak French" or more limited like "cooking dinner on Fridays."

Whatever method you choose, consistency seems to be one of the most important factors. It's one reason we're considering trying to focus on something like Spanish family dinner. We know we're not as consistent at OPOL as we'd like to be, but just "trying harder" isn't working. So we might throw in another strategy to bolster our minority language skills.

Of course, our most effective bilingual strategy still seems to be bribing. Ella earns rewards for listening to books read in Spanish, saying sentences in Spanish, or sometimes even watching Spanish cartoons. Because, yes, we reward our children for watching TV. We totally got this!

If you're interested in reading more, you might like this book:7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child.

Have you tried any of these strategies? What's worked for you?


  1. Kristen Bruce5:43 PM

    Love it! I would imagine that if were you raising them in Guatemala then you would have to be bribing them to speak English. (such as what I experienced at the bilingual school where I worked in Honduras)

    This could also be titled "how to teach your monolingual significant other your native language."

    My boyfriend and I tried "English Only Thursdays." Didn't last long haha!

  2. Ha! I imagine you're right, Kristen. We would have to bribe them to speak English. That's so hard for me to even imagine!

    "English Only Thursdays" I love it!

  3. I love the idea of picking a special location. I speak German, which isn't the most glamorous language, but it's fun. I regret not speaking German with the kids when they were new babies, but the OPOL method was hard as hubs doesn't speak German!

  4. Yes! It is hard when both partners don't speak both languages. And I love that you speak German. I am 5th generation German, but all I can say for that is that I can count to 3! :)


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