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Raising a child in more than one language.

Far from being the easy or automatic thing a lot of people assume it is, raising a child to be bi- or multi-lingual seems to be the result of a concerted effort on the part of the parents, particularly if one or both parents don't speak the language where you're living.

It also seems to be extremely difficult for the child to not make at least some mistakes or have an accent in one or more languages. Certainly many people know of cases where neither parent speaks the local language and the child either has an accent or makes some grammatical mistakes in the local language. By the same token, just because one parent is a foreigner and speaks to his child in his or her mother tongue doesn't guarantee that the child won't make mistakes or have an accent in that language.

Many children begin speaking the non-local language, only to refuse later. Sometimes this comes from a desire to not be different and in other cases, it's simply that the local language is pervasive in the child's life, so he feels more comfortable with it.

Here's the advice we were given by friends who are translators and themselves trilingual or polyglots, many of whom either grew up in or are raising or have raised children with more than one language.

    Speak to your child exclusively in your mother tongue. For one, this exposes him to the proper accent and grammar. Your child may hear you speak any other language to anyone else, but your relationship with him should be in your mother tongue.
    Have books, music and videos in your native language. Videos with children in them give support to the idea that your language isn't just a secret thing you speak at home, but other people and children also speak this language. This is even important in cases where English is the foreign language.
    Make regular phone calls to family members so that your child can have other relationships in your mother tongue. Visits to your country are also important.
    Don't make language an issue. When your child discovers this, he may use it against you.

My own observation is that children have the best chance of speaking accent-free in your mother tongue when it's also your spouse's mother tongue, or if your child goes to a school where this language is spoken.

But nothing is guaranteed. I know of a case where a family moved from one country to another when the children were in elementary school. After just three years in the foreign country, both children make mistakes in their own mother tongue.

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