The most common methods for bilingual upbringing

English as Second Language Teacher Paula Amaral tells us about the methods to raise a bilingual child.

By Paula Amaral

1/20/20214 min read

Expat kids playing with with Poikilingo app
Expat kids playing with with Poikilingo app

A few weeks ago, I made a post on Facebook asking some mothers of bilingual children what method they use to keep Portuguese active at home. The vast majority answered me: "I don't use any method. I only speak Portuguese with my kid, I tell stories in Portuguese, I play music in Portuguese, I always make video calls with my parents in Brazil, and when I can, we travel there."

I was very happy with the engagement of so many mothers who took some time to share what they do to keep Portuguese at home. However, I noticed that very few of them knew the real and scientific-proofed methods used in bilingual education. Even acting on intuition, each mother was using one of the methods that promote the raising of bilingual children.

In the book "Raising A Bilingual Child", Barbara Zurer Pearson highlights the 4 methods most used by parents when raising their bilingual children. They are:

  1. One Parent, One Language (OPOL)

  2. Minority Language At Home (mL@H)

  3. Time & Place (T&P) and

  4. Mixed Language Policy (MLP)

One Parent, One Language (OPOL)

This method is very popular among families whose parents speak different languages. Each parent will address the child using his or her own language at every and all moment of interaction with the child. For example, a Portuguese mother and Australian father who live in France will speak in Portuguese and English with their child. They are using OPOL, even though these two languages are minority languages in France. This child will quite likely learn French as well, from the environment where she is being raised.

Another example of OPOL would be a Portuguese mother and Australian father who live in France and the mother speaks in Portuguese with her child. In this case, as the family lives in Australia, where the majority language is English, the child is already learning English from the environment (and probably from the father as well, who is a native speaker of English).

Minority Language At Home (mL@H)

This method is used when the parents speak the same language, which is a minority language, at home. For instance a couple of Spanish speakers in the United States, who speak Spanish to their kids.

It is important to highlight that the concept of "at home" is not a limiting factor of the method. Some families will decide to really only speak the minority language when they are physically at home. But other families will be more flexible, and also speak the minority language whenever they are talking towards their kids, even if outside home. There are also situations "in the between", when for instance a family has a community, e.g. relatives or friends who also speak the minority language, and in that case they also speak the minority language with the kids when they are with such groups.

Time & Place (T&P)

This method is usually adopted by bilingual or international schools, where each language has its own time and place to be used. For example, in the morning or for some subjects the child will only have classes in Portuguese, and in the afternoon or for other subjects English will be used in the classroom.

It is also sometimes used by families who are moving temporarily to another country. For example, a family with an American father and a Polish mother that will move to Brazil for a long period of time, let's say 2 years, may choose to speak both English and Polish with the children so they keep their fluency on both languages. Many families have to define a clear strategy about when and for how long to speak in each language.

Mixed Language Policy (MLP)

This approach is adopted by families who prefer to use the bilingual mode depending on the subject of the conversation. Parents can talk to their children about school matters using the majority language, which is the one spoken at school. On the other hand, they can switch languages if they are talking about the upcoming vacation, for example. This method is not preferred by experts during the bilingual journey, as the child tends to always prefer to speak in the majority language.

As we can see, methods are important for you to provide your child with a bilingual environment. In any method the language should be used regularly and consistently, according to the family dynamics. The method should be chosen according to your goals to work on an active bilingual education, with the goal of having the child to speak and understand both or more languages.

However, the method is not arbitrary. If a change of method is necessary, explain to the child how this will happen. Children above the age of 3 have already formed an emotional bond between "person and language" and such a sudden break may bring emotional distress.

Reference: PEARSON, Barbara Zurer. "Raising a bilingual child". Ed. Living Language, New Work, 2008.

About Poikilingo

Poikilingo was born from the desire of expat moms to pass their native language to their children. English-speaking kids have access to a plethora of high-quality learning apps that other kids don't, specially those who speak less-spoken languages, such as Danish. At Poikilingo we aim to democratize the access to fun & engaging learning apps for all kids.

Paula Jota Pedersen, CMO & Co-founder of Poikilingo
Paula Jota Pedersen, CMO & Co-founder of Poikilingo

Leticia Maimann-Roland
CEO & Co-founder

Paula Jota Pedersen
CMO & Co-founder

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