1 – It doesn’t happen by magic
Children do not become bilingual “by magic”. There is a persistent myth claiming that “children are like sponges when it comes to language” and that they will learn all languages they hear regularly – this is simply not true. Yes, in the right circumstances children will naturally grow up to acquire the family languages, but this cannot be taken for granted.
2 – You need a plan
To be in with the best chance of succeeding in bringing up bilingual children, you need to plan ahead. How fluent do you want your children to be? What about reading and writing? Who speaks what and when? Discuss this in the family and agree on the goals.
3 – Consistency is crucial
Once you have your plan, you need to commit to it as a family and stay consistent in your language use. Yes, children can certainly become bilingual if parents mix their languages with them, but the risk that they will at some point prefer to stick to the majority language is far greater if they have become used to the minority language parent easily switching to the majority language.
4 – You will have to pay attention to exposure times
Once you have your plan, you need to look into how much exposure your children get to each language. There is general recommendation that children should be exposed to a language at least thirty percent of their waking time to naturally become bilingual. This should however only be taken as a guidance – depending on the type of exposure, children might need more or less time to acquire a language.
5 – You will have to invest some extra time (and sometimes maybe a bit of money)
You will need to find the time talk a lot, to do the reading and to find resources to help your children learn the language. You might find that you need to use your holidays to make a trip to boost your children’s motivation to speak the language.