Bilingual education – 10 things that worked for us

It has been 2 years and a half since we changed our minority language (ml) strategy, and the other day I was reflecting on all the efforts we have put into this bilingual journey, and what has clearly contributed to the pay off:

  1. Setting a clear house rule – it has set a clear expectation with no tolerance for Majority Language (ML) escapes.  In any aspects of education, children need these boundary markers, even if at some time or other they might be tempted to test these boundaries.  My eldest daughter who always turned to the ML as the easy way out to communicating has no escape route and she knows it.  She now knows she is expected to make the effort and that should she not know the word in one ml she should search for it in the other ml before resorting to the ML word.
  2. Setting the example – parents abide my ml@home rule. This has made all the difference and we have seen it on 2 separate occasions with each of our daughters.  The day we stopped speaking ML at home, my eldest immediately tried to use the ml to imitate us (see Our Story).  6 months ago, I stopped translating Spanish books to English to our youngest daughter and read them directly into Spanish (which is normally only spoken by my husband), as she showed a clear preference for my ml and did not want to speak much Spanish (see Adapting the Strategy to your Circumstances). My little one immediately acknowledged the change and gave suit.
  3. Routines – drill, drill, drill. This is how children are taught at nursery school, so I simply cloned their techniques and topics into the ml (see The 5 Benefits of Routines in Bilingual Education).
  4. Immersing in ml – I went back to basics; I went back to how I was raised bilingual: full immersion (see ml@h: A Minority Language Haven).  
  5. Thinking out of the box – This has been my challenge, though I quickly came to enjoy having to be creative, whether it came to creating new routines, new captive reading ideas, looking for ml equivalents of ML games…
  6. Having ml resources galore – I have budgeted a set monthly allowance to purchase ml books and other resources. We also have the chance to have a great local library with a kid’s foreign books section.  Hence, my children do not usually have time to grow tired of their books.
  7. Binge reading – at breakfast, after school, over dinner, before bedtime, before naptime, on the loo… Heaps of books all over the house within easy reach of children’s hands (see Reading to your Child: 8 Tips to Find the Time)
  8. Meeting little ml peers – Last year, my eldest was lucky enough to have a native English-speaking classmate.  A friendship budded between the 2 and I think it made a difference in my eldest’s mind. This year, we have been blessed with her being in a class where there are 5 other English speakers (part of a bilingual division in her school) who have clearly identified her as an English-speaking peer, and occasionally speak in English together.  This has made a huge difference in her mind (see Parent Tips: Child Resistance is Not Set in Stone)
  9. Persevering – never give up. Never. I had my knee down more than once, but I always caught my breath and rose again. I could not cope with the regret of giving up ( see Tips for Parents – Just Before you Throw the Towel
  10. Taking pride in our decision of bilingual education – do not be embarrassed to use your language outdoors.  Children feel these things and will experience using their ml as something shameful and embarrassing.  That is exactly what happened with my eldest daughter, until we switched language strategy and I decided to assume my decision come what may.  If you  are in this situation, I hope you will find comfort in the “Hostility to Bilingual Education: 10 Thoughts to Stay on Course” post.

These are the 10 things I can clearly identify as having made all the difference between the start of our bilingual journey where we were on our way to hit a brick wall, and the U-turn that brought us back on track.  Now, I cannot claim victory as the battle is not won until it is over, but besides persevering, these are the things we did not do at the beginning, and that since their implementation have clearly benefited to our journey.

What are the things that made a definite difference on your bilingual journey?  Please share your tips in the Comment section. 

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