Speaking in Tongues:The Best Way to Raise Bilingual Children

Imagine this scene, dear readers. Some friends of ours recently came to visit. A family of four, the parents are both ethnically Chinese. The wife was born in Hong Kong and came to the United States with her family as a young girl. We met in New York City when we worked at the same magazine. Her husband, also Chinese, was born in France, but his mother is Spanish and his father is French. So the husband’s first language is French, but he also speaks Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. They have two kids.

Because I love an excuse to entertain, we also invited another family over to eat with us. In this family, the father is German and Spanish, but raised in Madrid. Mom is Malaysian. They have two kids.

So, here you have a gathering of six kids, six adults and babygirl. One parent speaks to his children in French. One parent speaks to her kids in Cantonese. Two parents speak to the kids in Spanish. And two parents speak to their kids in English. And the kids, bless their multilingual hearts, respond in the proper language to the proper person. It was truly amazing to witness. And it was loud!

Us parents, we were having a great time discussing our own trials and tribulations trying to raise our children bilingually, or in some cases, tri-lingually. Every family had their own system but it all seemed to work. Our Chinese friends only allow their kids to watch TV in either Chinese or French. And both kids attend a French immersion school. El esposo has never spoken a word of English to our kids. Ever. Our German/Spanish friend initially spoke Spanish to his son on one day and then the next he would switch to German. That got old fast, so he quickly decided on Spanish and has been consistent ever since. At the end of the day, everyone decided that consistency in whatever method one chooses, is the most important element of successfully raising bilingual kids.

What do you think? What’s your secret to teaching your kids a second/third language?

I’m so listening. And in the meantime, here are some links to websites that might have some more answers.

Spanglish Baby

Growing Up Global

InCulture Parent


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