Choosing a second language (con’t)

In my previous post, I discussed the situation of bilingual families, in which the choice raise children with two languages, and the two languages to choose, is  dictated by the languages in question. I’ve spent the last few days in London, which is truly a multilingual city. Parents are speaking with children in a plethora of languages and then seamlessly switching to English to talk to people around them. The mix of accents and languages here is truly impressive.

But what to do if you are a family with only one language, and you would like to raise your children to be bilingual? For expats such as myself, the choice of second languages can be as easy as choosing the language of the country you are living in at the time. Thus, I know many families in the Netherlands who are raising their children with Dutch as a second language – a new generation of English-Dutch, Italian-Dutch, German-Dutch and so on…

Parents frequently ask me “How long is long enough?” when they are only staying temporarily. Generally speaking, how long you need to stay to make the language worthwhile for your child depends on the age of the child. For children under school age, even exposing them to a new language for a short stay (1-3 years) is beneficial. For older children, the decision needs to be weighed against their educational needs and their motivation to learn a second language. Whatever situation applies, when making the decision for non-familial bilingualism, it is important to plan what your objectives are and how you are going to get there.

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