Monday, December 5, 2011

Raising Bilingual Children

Why raise bilingual children?
Children who are raised bilingual have many advantages over children who can only speak one language. Languages open up the doors to knowledge, culture, ideas, dawa, travel, friendships, and economic opportunities.  It’s one of those things where you don’t know how much it is worth until you have it.  We now live in a global village, more so than any other time, therefore knowing more than one language is very valuable.   Adding a program to your homeschooling curriculum for your child to grow in a bilingual environment is an excellent choice and we hope this article will help you make the decision that’s right for you.
Why we did it?
We have raised our children to speak both English and Classical Arabic.   English obviously because it is our mother tongue, it’s the language of where we are from, and where we plan to spend our lives.  English is also the language of business, and most modern sciences.  As for Arabic, it is the language of Islam, the Qur’an, our Prophet, and all of the Islamic sciences.   I went through a lot of effort to learn Arabic and I hope that my children won’t have to go through the same hardships.  I don’t want them to have to look at a translation in order to understand the Qur’an, I want them to hear it as if they were alive during the time of the prophet peace be upon him, because it is the language they were raised upon, the language of the Qur’an.  
How we did it?
After reading about different approaches, we decided that I would speak Arabic to my son and my wife, and that my wife would speak Arabic to me and English to my son.   This provided two benefits.  Firstly between me and my wife, she would have someone to practice her Arabic with, and this also allowed my son to hear others conversing in Arabic giving him additional practice.  Deciding on this plan was half of the journey; the rest has been all about consistency.   
Abdurahman was able to practice his English with his mom, his relatives, and eventually his reading programs.   As for his Arabic, my son’s only exposure was through me and listening to me and my wife speak.  This is an important point as many people would think that they would need to be in an Arab country, enrolled in Arabic schools, or maybe even marry an Arab to ensure their child speak Arabic.  It’s not true.  In fact I purposely limited my son’s interactions with Arab children so as to protect his language from being influenced by local dialects. 
Another source of practice for him now is his younger brother. When Nuh was born we would act out his voice in Arabic, pretending that he was speaking to Abdurahman, and in return, Abdurahman would respond to him in Arabic. This became so habitual that by the time Nuh was speaking they preferred to speak to each other in Arabic. This process of dividing the languages between us has proven to be so successful that even if I slip up and speak to my son in English he responds to me in Arabic.
Obviously Learning Arabic is a blessing, but even if you’re a household that speaks English and Urdu, or English and Spanish, or any other language for that matter you never know the benefit that your child may have from it.  And although they might not thank you for doing so if you do, they’ll surely ask why you didn’t, if you didn’t.
What you should do
1. Have to have a plan.   You may try what we’ve done where each parent speaks a specific language.  Some people suggest if you’re living in a country that speaks English for example than inside the home you make a rule where no one is allowed to speak anything but the second language.  Whatever your plan is you need to make sure that the child is getting enough exposure and practice on a consistent basis without mixing different approaches.
2. Stick to the program.  Flip flopping programs is going to be detrimental to the consistency that your child will need in order to make progress.  If you’re not consistent, you may find that either the child blends the two languages, or allows one to become predominant while neglecting the other.
3. Exposure. The child needs to have as much exposure as possible.  You might not be strong in the language you want him/her to speak so he/she may need additional practice.   You can do this by bringing him/her into communities that speak the target language, through social gatherings, clubs, or sports.  This way he/she has a variety of people to practice with. You can also use various online resources, like language podcasts through ITunes, online learning with CafĂ© Mocha, or documentaries in your target language. 
4. Listening:  We have the Qur’an playing in our house all day.  Our kids pick up a lot of new vocabulary words and try to make sentences out of them.   Maybe you can find material online to listen to, or documentaries to watch in order to increase child’s vocabulary while learning proper pronunciation.
5. Read to you child.   If you know the language than try to read a story to the child in that language on a consistent basis.  This is another fun activity for your child that will allow him/her to expand their vocabulary, and it allows for the best question of “what does that mean?” 
In closing
We couldn't be more happy with the decision we made.  Our children are both speaking fluently in both languages and continuing to improve.  If you have the ability to do it, think it over and give it a try, you’ll save your child a big headache when they grow up. Trying to learn any language through a classroom environment is less preferable and more difficult than growing up with it.  As with any homeschooling endeavor there are doubters, and discouragers, promoting fears that your child won’t speak until they are 3, or that they’ll get confused.  We haven’t found this to be the case.  We thank Allah that our children have had the progress that they have and we pray more parents are able to try and have the same success.  If you have any questions please let us know, as we would love to help.