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Raising bilingual children

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Being bilingual means that you can speak 2 languages.
  • Learning another language can help your child communicate, connect with their culture, and prepare for life.
  • By speaking to your baby in more than one language, you help them learn.
  • The older your child gets, the more difficult it will be for them to learn a new language.
  • You can help your child learn by playing games in your language.

What does bilingual mean?

Being ‘bilingual’ means you can speak 2 languages fluently. Lots of families in Australia speak more than one language.

Speaking multiple languages has many benefits for children, and it’s something they pick up well. Bilingual children might use their languages in different ways:

  • some bilingual children will speak 2 languages on a regular basis
  • others will speak 2 languages in different settings
  • some will speak one language more often than the other

What are the benefits of raising bilingual children?

If you come from a non-English speaking background, teaching your children your first language can:

Speaking multiple languages from an early age can help children to learn. Bilingual children:

  • develop increased attention span, better memory and better organisation skills
  • develop good communication skills
  • find it easier to learn another language
  • have higher self-esteem from a sense of identity and belonging
  • will have more career opportunities when they’re older

Which language should I use with my child?

Your child should be exposed to both languages you want to teach them. So, it’s a good idea to have some family members speak to your child using one language.

Other family members should use the other language. It's important that you talk to your child in the language that feels most comfortable for both of you.

How do children learn languages?

Children learn language by listening to you speak.

Babies learn words before they start to talk by listening to you. You can teach your baby language skills and how conversations work by:

  • talking to them
  • making eye contact
  • pointing to objects and naming them

Children start to talk in sentences around 2 years of age. Bilingual children learn to speak just as quickly as children from families where just one language is spoken.

While they’re learning they may mix up the languages they are learning or become quiet for a time. This is normal as they gain understanding of the new language.

When should I teach another language to my child?

Start speaking to your child in more than one language as early as possible. It’s best to begin as soon as they’re born. This is known as simultaneous acquisition.

Some families decide it's better to introduce the second language only after learning the first. This is known as sequential acquisition. However, the later their learning begins, the more difficult it will be for your child to learn another language.

This doesn’t mean your child can’t learn a second language. The better they are at speaking their first language, the easier it will be for them to learn a second. Don’t stop speaking their first language while teaching your child another language.

How can I help my child learn a language?

Children will need to understand why they should speak both languages. It will help if you put them in situations where they have to speak the second language to communicate with other people. Even if your child doesn’t seem interested, keep speaking to them in your first language.

Make sure you practice your language so you can teach your child properly.

Teaching through play

Encourage your child to learn a language through play. You can make your learning fun by:

  • playing games, singing songs or reading stories in your first language
  • connecting with other families who speak your language through play dates for your child
  • finding activities that may boost your child’s interest in your culture

Bilingualism at home - video

Video provided by Raising Children Network.

Resources and Support

You can read more about teaching your child another language through the Raising Children Network.

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 for support and advice. You can use the Translating and Interpreting Service to call.

The Multilingual Phone Service offers information in your language about Centrelink payments and services. You can call them on 131 202.

The Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) on 131 450 has bilingual information about Medicare and Child Support services.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2023

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Bilingualism & bilingual children: video | Raising Children Network

In this video about bilingualism, parents explain why its important to raise bilingual children who can speak English and their familys first language.

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