How to Raise Bilingual Children and Teach Babies Two Languages

I’m a first time mum who is keen to teach my baby Russian. I was born into a Russian family in Moscow but moved away when I was one. Nonetheless I speak, read and write fluently. Therefore, I want to give my son at least a basic start. It doesn’t help that it’s notorious for being a very difficult language to learn but here’s my plan!

Methods of Teaching a Second Language at Home

  • 1. The whole family speaks the second language at home. This is method is the reason I know Russian because my family spoke Russian at home and my dad would often tell myself and my sister off for speaking English between ourselves. Although this was practical for my parents because they preferred Russian over English, nonetheless, it meant that we had practice of the language at home and often had no choice but to speak this language.
  • 2. One person one language. This is actually a common way to teach a child multiple languages at the same time, so they can become trilingual etc. This is also the way I am teaching my son Russian because my husband is English and therefore I am the only source of that language. From speaking to other foreign mums, it’s crucial for me to speak to my son in that language, even when out of the house because otherwise they revert to the language that they find easiest… which is usually English. I’m speaking from experience because I have two nieces, a 6 year old and a 3 year old, living in Oxford, both of whom speak English amongst themselves as well as their mum (my aforementioned sister.)
  • 3. The final method I personally find tricky and that’s speaking a particular language during a particular time or in a specific place. Examples of this could be speaking Russian only between 9 and 10 am or only speaking Russian in the nursery. I personally haven’t looked into this method enough because I didn’t feel like it’s plausible or long enough for their to learn this language – I’d love to hear from someone who has done this though!

Research About Bilingual Babies

I’ve listened to TED Talks and read a lot of research around this topic, even before my son was born. Here are some of the key things I have found out and the resources so that you can check it out for yourself:

TED Talk: Creating Bilingual Minds shared an experiment where they immersed babies in play and interactions to teach the particular language. They saw an incredible and positive result which suggests that teaching babies another language is ideal and actually scientifically critical between the ages of 0 to 3.

The other point I took away from the TED Talk was that the concerns that people usually have about kids starting to talk late because they’re learning two languages isn’t scientifically proven. Personally however, both of my nieces started speaking late so I expect my son to also – this doesn’t bother me.

There are studies (NIH for example) that showcase that multilingual people can switch tasks better than those with one language. Thus, they can multitask better and judging by my own abilities I tend to agree.

According to the Linguistic Society, kids do not get confused between languages. This was also mentioned in the TED talk above. To summarise, children know they are using multiple languages when speaking to another person who also knows those languages, they just pick and choose the easiest for them to say or what comes to mind first. Also, they tend to use this grammatically in those languages which is awesome. I can vouch for this one because me and my sister would speak three languages sometimes (we also once knew Hebrew as we lived there too for some time when growing up.)

Teach a Second Language Through Play and Interactions

  • Books: I have a small library of Russian books that I try and read my son every night. This encourages babies to hear the sounds of another language, making it familiar. As he gets older I’ve no doubt that it’ll help him understand words too through pictures.
  • Songs: I find this a fun way to interact with my son but it’s also very memorable. As kids learn best through play, this one is ideal.
  • Rhymes: Similar to songs, these are a great way to have them remember words in another language and eventually memorise it when they’re a bit older.
  • Television programs, films and cartoons: Lets be realistic here, you can’t be interacting and talking at your child all day so having the TV, even in the background (personally I see no issue with this from a young age) helps them hear those sounds whilst they play. Once they get older I’m sure the baby can start picking up on what they mean.
  • Toys: in Russia we have specific characters that everybody knows about and I’m sure this is the same in other countries. Using toys that are from that pop culture or famous in a particular place makes it memorable and keeps up those traditions in my opinion!
  • Mix of the above is ideal! Basically, do all of them if you can 🙂

I did a YouTube video about this. If you stop by, please don’t forget to give me a thumbs up and comment as it helps me appear in other people’s feeds who may need help or inspiration:

Thanks in advance and until next time x

Alina is the founder and writer of The Fairytale Pretty Picture blog whilst working full time as an SEO specialist at a growing online-only retailer called Amara. She owns a beautiful white Alsatian and lives in Essex with her husband.

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