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If you speak more than one language at home, you might be wondering how and when to introduce them to your child. Myths are widespread, so it is important to distinguish myths from facts.
One of the most common myths is that children who hear more than one language get confused. Another is that those children start speaking later or have language problems.
The truth is that children who speak two languages are more common than children who just speak one language, and babies are born ready to learn any language they hear in their environment.
So, what’s the best way to get started? Talk to your baby in the language you are most comfortable speaking as soon as the baby is born. Make language part of your daily routine, and immerse your child in the language as much as possible, through play, chatting, and having fun. When the use of the language is spontaneous and enjoyable from the start, children will see it as a normal part of their life.
Some children might become more comfortable using the language of the majority, but don’t worry, with patience and additional doses of language immersion your child will continue to acquire the language, even if they don’t use it consistently.
A question I get a lot is whether parents should force children to stick to one language, or pretend they don’t understand or refuse to talk back to the child unless the communication is happening in the home language. Most children will see this as a rejection, and won’t like this approach. When children are younger, you can encourage them to use your language by rephrasing what they have said or by playing games where you both have to take turns in talking or asking questions.
When they’re older, you can explain the importance of being bilingual and why it matters to you, and why it will be an advantage in the years to come.