For antenatal practioners
Starting a multilingual family: key messages to share with parents
Use your languages – The more of your language(s) your baby hears, the more they will speak and understand. Give them the chance to listen to the languages that are important to you as often as possible.
Children can learn more than one language – Children can develop good language skills in any and every language that they hear – no matter what those languages are!
Speak in the languages you’re most comfortable with – This will give your child the best chance at learning language. They will learn English from the community later.
Multilingualism is a positive – There are advantages for well-being, learning and thinking.
There is no one right way – Every family is unique. Do what works best for you!
Advantages of speaking more than one language
Wellbeing Speaking more than one language can help your child’s well-being. Speaking your home language can help you to share your own culture and strengthen links within your family.
Learning Multilingual children are better at learning other languages later on.
Brain & Thinking Speaking more than one language can help skills like attention and creativity. Babies don’t get confused between languages – in fact it’s good for getting their brain working! When your child switches between their languages, this is normal and shows their brain is working hard to learn them.
For everyone Learning more than one language is an option for all, including gifted children and children with developmental difficulties.
Growing up with more than one language
Your role is essential in encouraging parents to think about the most appropriate language practices for their baby. Do not assume that parents will have thought about this at this stage. You might be the first person to mention this and to provide informed advice (rather than common myths or beliefs). Here are four questions you can encourage parents to think through.
Expectations How much of a language your child learns will depend on how much of that language they hear. Think about how much you would like your child to speak and understand each language.
Family structure Who is in your family and which languages will they speak? This will help you think about how much of each language your child will hear regularly.
Dynamics How strongly do you feel about your own language and cultural background? This is likely to affect how much you use each of your languages.
Family attitudes What do you think and feel about speaking more than one language? How about others in the family? Talk about this together.