Raising Multilingual Kids

Multilingual-Support-For-WordPress-Themes-featuredMoving to China, should my baby be immersed in Chinese in everyday life?

Families moving to China are automatically exposed to a second or third language, whether they like it or not. They suddenly have to communicate somehow with Ayi, who only speaks Chinese! Very often parents, that where only exposed to their mother tongue before, start to worry, whether their children will manage to cope with a parallel language to their mother tongue or not. Usually parents themselves had learned their second or third language – if they learnt one at all – when they were grownups and had to make a big effort to retain it and that’s why they worry for their children. They neglect the fact that a child’s mind is like a sponge and is capable to soak in so many things at once. Yes, unfortunately this changes for children as they grow and they stand where we are today , as parents: Just moved to China(or who knows where?!), asking  the question: “shall I really expose my child to another foreign language or shall I leave it?”

If you are really interested in my opinion: DO IT!

Advantages of bilingualism or why should you give it a try:

  1. Studies show, that even a small exposure to a language as a baby influences the way the brain will interpret and process sounds, even if it is forgotten later. This will make your child learn more languages more easily and reduce the probability of a strong accent.The brain in general creates cross links by learning a second language which is also beneficial for the intelligence of the child and the cognitive performance. Again the older you get, the more this ability gets lost. Depending on the person, from the age around 15 learning a new language may take years and you will probably never get rid of your accent.A showing example for this is Henry Kissinger who learnt English at the age of 14 compared to his younger brother speaks English with German accent, whereas his brother was only a year younger and speaks it without accent.
  2. Another aspect is that kids speaking different languages are able to think different logic. Every language has its own rules and being able to switch from to the other trains your kids brain. This is why usually multilingual kids are good mathematicians.
  3. Apart of that speaking the language of a culture makes you understand the culture better and opens you up to other cultures and languages, it makes you more flexible and attentive towards different cultures as you learn to put yourself into the position of another person while talking to him.

… so if your child accepts bilingualism and can cope with the challenge, what risk does it have?

Risks of bilingualism or when you should hesitate:

It is very important that parents speak to their kids in the language they can handle best. Speaking with a baby is easy, but as a child grows older the level of communication also increases. It is of disadvantage if your child learns a lot of languages but does not feel strong, safe and home in any of them.

I learnt to know a family that had three children, two of them accepting bilingualism without problems, whereas one of the children had serious difficulties. This is also a question of personality. We are all different! (This child probably has other strengths) Neither the child’s fault nor the parents! If parents discover this problem, they should find a way to take pressure off their child by focusing on the main and more important language. Most important Is that the child grows up feeling secure.

A few tips for multilingual education  If you decide to expose your child to another language you should stand by your decision!

Children, especially baby’s sense the parents feelings more than we know! This applies to every situation! If your child feels that you are uncomfortable with something, it will probably refuse. So ask yourself what you feel by the thought of exposing your child to another language. Are you afraid? Then this might be the first obstacle you should eliminate. If you want your children to learn, make them feel that they can do it and it will be fun for them. (You can still stop if you see that your child is confused but you should not stop because you believe it will be confused!)

Being very small, babies rather interpret the gesture and mimic of adults than the real words they do not yet understand. By observing is how they learn to connect words to situations later. They interpret a situation by the circumstances, the sound of the voice and the movement an adult makes to it. This is the way babies learn a language.

If different adults (for example the babies parents and Ayi) give the same situation a different name, the baby will usually accept it without questioning and easily learn a second language.


These are the mail two principles of multilingualism:


Usually coming to China, you have the family language and your child speaks Chinese to the Ayi or outside the family.


If the parents speak different languages to the child, they have to stay consequent in the language in which they address their children. Here you might live in a surrounding in which either on or the other language of the parents is spoken. In this case the language of the surrounding will be stronger.

Or you live in a country in which the surrounding has a third language. This would mean every parent speaks their language within the family and the third language is spoken outside. Kids usually automatically adapt and use the right language with the right person… (there are always exceptions)

As Parents you have to accept that on language will be stronger than the other/others, no matter what mentioned situation your family is in. It is very difficult to have the same level in every language. Usually when the child starts to go to kindergarten or to school, the language in which it communicates with other children will turn to be the strongest. If parents do not accept this, there might be too much pressure on the child which could lead to language refusal. Don’t forget that the second language is an incentive for your child’s life and opens a horizon no matter to which extent the language is learnt.

Being younger is an advantage, but no matter what age children are, when living in a foreign country I believe that it is important to give your child a try, whether it adapts to languages easily or not.  Especially living in China, where can you learn and practice this complicated language like Chinese better?



Writer Csilla L,Founder Little Spoonful www.littlespoonful.com , comes from Germany and has a Masters in European Business Management from ESCP-EAP(Paris,Oxford ,Berlin) and speaks multiple languages.When she first moved to Shanghai,she couldn’t find safe food for her children and thus Little Spoonful was born.It is the first fresh baby food company in China.For Csilla ,food safety matters.