For some parents bilingualism comes naturally, however for others, it can be a cause for concern and unnecessary stress.
There are essentially two ways in which a child becomes bilingual; simultaneous acquisition and successive acquisition.
Simultaneous acquisition is the process of learning two languages straight from birth.
Successive acquisition is learning a language after already being well-versed in another.
Many mothers state that when giving birth to a child, they find it near impossible to talk to their newborn in anything but their mother tongue. This is a common phenomenon and if this is the case, it helps to introduce clear language settings for your secondary languages. For example, as the child’s mother, you may speak to her in German, whilst her father speaks to her in Arabic. Or as parents you speak to her in Mandarin whilst her grandparents speak to her in English. The boundaries are for you to decide! If situations become a bit muddled, remember that children are largely able to distinguish between two languages and are comfortable building two language systems.
Some parents plan on enacting simultaneous acquisition when their child is born, but when they find themselves in the situation, find that they all want to speak to their child in the same language. This is acceptable as well, and is a situation more suited to successive acquisition, building a second language whilst the first is largely established. This often occurs by the children starting to have interactions with their community and needing to find a way to communicate with the wider world.
It’s never the wrong time to start another language with your child. But as you raise a child that is bilingual or multilingual, it’s important to not have the same expectations of those of monolingual children. Although they may start talking slightly later than their peers, bilinguals generally talk within a normal age range.
If you do have any concerns about the language development of your child, feel free to reach out to us here at Little Sprouts, or with professionals that are able to measure your child in all of their languages.