Raising a multilingual child: 5 strategies to increase input in your native language

As a parent raising a trilingual child I am aware that my son exposure to my native language (Italian) is mostly limited to the time I spend with him. As exposure to the language, i.e. language input, especially comprehensible input,  is one of the key determinants of first language acquisition, and few sources suggests that a child need at least 25 hours/week exposure to a language to learn it as a first language, it is useful to reflect on the total hours that one can spend with his child and how to maximise his exposure to the “target” language.

Here I will present few common strategies that parents raising multilingual children can use to increase the exposure to their language to their children

1. Verbalise what you are doing

Whatever you are doing, drawing, playing football, playing with Lego, you can verbalise what you are doing, in this way you will increase the amount of language exposure per hour spent together with your child.  Moreover, research showed that, whether your child is multilingual or not, speaking a lot to children supports their cognitive development and their language skills.

2. Tell stories and read books, especially in the evening

Telling stories and reading books is a useful strategy to increase the exposure to articulate language and to introduce a variety of situations and words that may not easily encountered in daily life. Books with a lot of drawings and pictures provide a convenient way to provide links between images and words. This is helpful as the human brain can memorise information better  when this is associated to images, a characteristic that is often used to create mnemonics.

3. Build a social circle of people from your home country

Building a social circle of expats/migrants from your native country can increase exposure to the target language and to its ties with a specific culture and way of living.

4. Do holidays in your native country

If one can afford the costs, having holidays in your home country is a useful additional strategy to reinforce your child’s acquisition of your native language. This is particularly important because it provides to the child evidence that knowledge of the language is not redundant but it is useful as there are places and people who can communicate only in that language.

5. Reflect on daily experiences before sleeping

Reflecting on what one has done during the day is a good way to reinforce the language input that the child received during the day.  Recalling and reviewing experiences will often also bring the repetition of new words used during the day and this can be helpful to help memory formation of this new knowledge.

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