Raising bilingual kids is a long journey – one that requires dedication, time, and lots of support. Yet bilingualism is truly a gift that impacts a child for a lifetime! Grandparents can be an excellent source of support for parents and grandchildren along the path. Whether grandparents can help speak both languages or not, they can offer positivity for the bilingual parenting plan. What’s more, they can certainly develop a meaningful relationship with their grandkids.
If bilingual parenting is new to you, it is important to know a few terms. The majority language is the one spoken in the community by most people. In the United States, the majority language is English. The minority language is the lesser spoken one that the child is learning. I often call the minority language a target language, because it is the one we are targeting, or teaching most intentionally, with children. The majority language is a strong force in children’s lives – especially if they go to English-only daycare or school. They will hear it and see it everywhere they go. Therefore, the minority language learning must be strongly prioritized and intentionally planned to reach language fluency.
Ideas for Grandparents
Language learning takes time – whether in the majority or the minority language! Even in monolingual households, children are learning new vocabulary words, grammatical structures, and literacy (reading and writing) skills throughout their childhood. This understanding will help you be patient with your grandchild as they learn, and be supportive of the parents as they prioritize and protect time spent in the minority language. It will likely take continued inspiration and support for a child to become bilingual. Yet, daily efforts will add up over time and be worth it!
With this background, I’d like to share my advice for grandparents who are looking for ways that they can help support their grandchild’s bilingualism. There are ideas and tips for grandparents who speak the minority language and those who don’t. They could also work for aunts, uncles, or other family members!
“Young people need something stable to hang on to – a culture connection, a sense of their own past, a hope for their own future. Most of all, they need what grandparents can give them.”-Jay Kesler
Communication is key
My first tip is to communicate with the grandchild’s parents in a kind and supportive way about their bilingual parenting goals for their child. You might ask if they have a family language plan (in short, goals for the child’s language fluency and a plan for language exposure). Read more about what a family language plan is in this post. Ask some questions and show interest in their desire for the child to learn two languages. Again, if this is all new to you, or the topic interests you, perhaps you’d like to read a book about the subject – and then possibly share it with the parents. Above all, let them know they have your support.
Related post: Top 5 Bilingual Parenting Books
Take some time to learn about bilingualism and language learning and what the research says so you can battle your own biases or misinformation. Research shows tremendous life advantages to being bilingual (read about them in “Benefits of Bilingualism” below). You should also know that switching languages is normal as kids gain fluency in both languages and naturally learn when to speak each language. Finally, bilingualism does not cause confusion in kids or speech disorders. Bilingualism offers cognitive, emotional, social, and even physical benefits!
Make the choice to be a source of positivity for your grandchild’s language learning and the parents’ bilingual parenting journey. Don’t underestimate the power a positive attitude can have on someone who loves and respects you. Your encouragement just might keep the family going on preserving the minority language! Conversely, don’t underestimate the weight of your words when speaking negatively about their language skills or learning.
Share your culture
Be proactive about sharing stories from when you were a child and when your child was young. Take time to share about family traditions around holidays as well as important aspects of your culture/heritage you want the child to know and be proud of. You might also share about your own language learning journey and what it’s meant for your life. Do you speak a second language? Was your parents’ or grandparents’ heritage language lost over time? Or, what has knowing a second language meant to you? What life advantages or connections to your heritage has it given you?
One of the greatest gifts grandparents can give their grandkids is time. Making special time to spend together helps you develop a meaningful bond. Kids need adults who they can count on to love and support them as they learn and grow. Spending time together and building a connection and positive relationship is essential – in either language. As the child is developing their language skills, keep this bond in mind. When you don’t understand the child in one language, ask the parent to help instead of ignoring the child. Keep a positive connection as top priority.
“Love is the greatest gift that one generation can leave to another.”-Richard Garnett
A simple and effective way to show support for a grandchild’s bilingual upbringing is by intentionally picking gifts for language learning. I have a bilingual kids’ gift guide full of ideas ranging from minority language magazine subscriptions, books, or cultural gifts to open-ended toys that promote language development.
Explore language classes
If you don’t speak another language, have you considered taking a language class? It’s never too late! Taking a course in your grandchild’s minority language will model a love of learning that lasts a lifetime – and that language learning is valuable. Try learning a little bit of the language along with your grandchild!
Related post: 10 Ideas for Practicing Spanish as an Adult (if you know some already)
If you speak the language…
Help with language exposure and creating a need for the child to use it by speaking it with your grandchild. Talk with the family to determine how best you can provide language input (talking with the child in the language). Perhaps you only speak the minority language with the child, or have a special day/time/place to use it together regularly. If you can speak the language with the child, it will be an invaluable gift!
Read to your bilingual grandchild in the minority language as often as you can. Visit the library together, read books in person or over the phone, or start a weekly (or daily) virtual reading time. Reading with your grandchild will help with literacy and language skills in the target language. Plus, you’ll get the added bonus of regular bonding time with the child.
Write to the child
Send any cards, letters, even text messages in the minority language. Continue to be another source of language input for the child through writing back and forth. Again, your grandchild will work on reading and writing skills while you also maintain a strong connection over the years.
Grandparents as support
Finally, why not ask the parents for suggestions on how you might best help with their language goals for their child? They may have a specific idea for you to get you more involved in your grandchild’s language learning journey! No matter how you decide to support language learning, you’ll grow a closer bond with your grandchild and be a positive role model in their life.
As you put into practice some of these ideas, enjoy time with your grandkids and remember that language learning is a lifetime journey that comes with the most amazing benefits.
What other ideas do you have for supporting your grandchild’s language learning? Or, if you’re a parent, what other ideas have been helpful for you and your children? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! Connect with Bilingual Balance on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.
Continue learning through the following related articles:
- FAQ on Raising Bilingual Children (from the Linguistic Society of America)
- 7 Myths and Facts About Bilingual Children Learning Language (from the American Academy of Pediatrics)
- Bilingual Children and Grandparents (from Multilingual Parenting)