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We Want to Speak Two Languages in the Home. What Do We Do?



This is another in a series on language delays and bilingualism/English Language Learners.  Last week, I talked about my thoughts on recommendations for speaking only English in the home when another language is spoken or introducing English into a non-English speaking home.  Often parents choice to have a bilingual home. This week I'm going to talk about the different ways to speak two languages in the home (another popular question at the beginning of the school year for me).  There are two general ways this happens:

1. One Parent-One Language Approach

Like the name suggests, one parent speaks one language and the other parent speaks the other language.  When talking together, the parents will pick a common language.  This is usually the language both parents feel comfortable speaking.  In this approach, the parents are very strict about which language they are speaking and only speak that language with the children. The only exception is when they are have a family conversation then they may revert to the "common language."

2.  Set Aside Times of the Day Approach

Again like the name suggests you pick a time(s) of the day to speak one language and other times you speak the other language.  I have even had parents pick days where they only spoke one of the languages.  During these designated times all communication in the home is in one or the other languages. This approach is usually successful when both parents are comfortable speaking both languages. 

CAUTION: Do not mix up the two languages!  When talking do not add grammar or words from the other language.  This can be confusing for children and can harm language development.  REMEMBER: children, especially with delays, need good strong language  models.  Also, it is normal and developmentally appropriate for children to mix up the two languages as they grow.  Rephrasing the sentences with the correct words or grammar is helpful.

Many parents ask which one is better than the other.  My answer is which ever one fits their family's life the best is the one to do.  For example, where I live, it is common for one of the parents to work away from the home up to weeks at a time.  When this is the case then setting asides times would be more beneficial than the one parent-one language approach. Families may also try one approach and find that it does not fit and later try the other approach.  I found some wonderful resources that have helped me over the years.  My favourite one (and the one that I used to double check my information) is Dual Language Development Disorders 2: A Handbook on Bilingualism and Second Language Learning Edited by Johanne Paradis, Fred Genesee and Martha B. Crago (Paul Brookes Publishing Company, 2011).  I don't have any financial stake in saying this is a great book and have gone back to it many times.