Do you want to know the formula for success for bilingualism?
It’s simple, although not always easy to execute.
input + need = success
In other words, the two factors that contribute to successful bilingualism are input (what the child hears) and the need to process and use it.
How can we provide input?
For a baby to acquire vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, he or she needs to listen, listen, listen. Besides putting musica, television, and videos in the target language, it is imperative that a large part of the input be from a human, in person. (See the video The linguistic genius of babies for more on this.) This is why it is so important that you sing songs, read books, and play with your baby in the target language.
¿How can we creat the need to use the target language?
Going back to the above, it is very important that a large part of the input come from face to face contact with another person (parents, relatives, care-givers, teachers, etc.) The more, the better.
A large volume of input will signal the baby’s brain that this language is necessary to process and learn.
It is for this reason that many parents choose to follow the OPOL method in which each parent only speaks to the baby in one language, creating the need for the child to communicate in the language that corresponds to each of the parents. (Read the entry Confessions for more information about the different methods.)
The other side of the coin is insisting that the child communicate in the target language (in our case, English). Depending on the degree of bilingualism that you are looking to provide your child, this may mean that he or she has to speak to you in the target language all the time or maybe there are certain things he or she must say in the target language. If you have established some routines as we recommend, this will become increasingly more natural.
We actually do the same thing in the mother language to stimulate language development. Instead of giving the child her toy when she points, we insist that she ask for it with words. When she begins to ask for things by name, we begin to also insist upon a please.
We require increasingly more complete phrases, always providing input as a linguistic model. This same way of speaking can also be applied in the target language.
Useful language to insist upon communication in English
What do you want?
Use your words.
Do you want the…?
How do we say that in English?
In English, we say…
Sí, es una mariposa. It’s a butterfly.
I don’t understand. Can you tell me in English?
What do you say? (Please, thank-you, etc.)
Say, “Where’s my baby?” [modelo lingüístico]
Remember to speak English with Mommy.
English chip in! Beep-boop-hello!
Usa tus palabras.
¿Cómo lo decimos en inglés?
En inglés, decimos…
Sí es una mariposa. Es a butterfly.
No entiendo. ¿Me lo puedes contar en inglés?
¿Qué se dice? (Por favor, gracias, etc.)
Di, “¿Dónde está mi bebé?” [linguistic model]
Acuérdate de hablar con mamá en inglés.
¡Chip de inglés insertado! ¡Bip-bup-hello!