Bilingualism is using two languages to communicate. Generally, the native language is spoken and introduced by parents from birth (e.g. Cantonese); whereas the second language is learned in addition to the native language (e.g. English – which is predominantly spoken at school).

Research shows that bilingualism itself doesn’t cause language delay. Children learning two languages may be slower to start talking, but research shows this is normal. So, be patient and encouraging!

Some children may lose their native language as they don’t use it as much. Often, more of an emphasis is placed on the second language, as children may need it for communication and learning at school. However, it is important to preserve the home language as it can provide cultural identity and a sense of belonging, particularly if some family members don’t speak the child’s second language. Below are some strategies to help practise and preserve the native language.

  • Take every opportunity to speak to your child in your native language.
    • Face them at their eye level. Make lots of comments and minimise questions.
    • Praise and build on any communicative attempts.
  • Create language opportunities throughout the day.
    • Use interesting books/DVDs/ favourite toys to engage your child. This can also be used to reinforce the second language.
  • Repeat phrases in your native language
    • Repeat back what your child says in your native language, so that they get a chance to hear it. You can encourage them to repeat it but this is not a must.
  • Keep your language age-appropriate in order to help your child learn more effectively.
  • Code mixing is normal for bilinguals.
    • Don’t worry when your child mixes languages. Instead, provide them with opportunities to hear, speak, play, interact in your native language.
    • Parents however, should avoid code-mixing when interacting with their child in order to provide a better language model.
  • Provide lots of praise and encouragement.

Last but not least, remember to keep the interaction fun and engaging!