Homeschooling Bilingual Children

A colleague of mine has kids that are half Thai and half African (like Tiger Woods). In the home, both Thai and English are spoken frequently. A major problem with bilingual children is that one of the languages is never truly mastered. This is called semilingualism. The problem was not with the kids learning Thai because their mother was Thai. Instead, my colleague was worried about his kids developing broken poorly understood Pidgin English.

About 8 years ago there was another family whose children were half Thai and half American and they had faced the same problem. However, they overreacted and never spoke Thai in their home in order to make sure their children learned English. This led to the kids knowing only English even though they were half-Thai and lived in Thailand. My friend did not want to make this mistake.

What He Did

I suggested to my friend that he needed to set some sort of schedule in which time was set aside in the home for the use of both languages. Below is the schedule that he developed.

  • Monday – Friday from waking up until 2 pm Thai language
  • Monday-Friday 2 pm to bedtime English language
  • Weekends-English only
  • Exceptions-Home school curriculum is in English with the exception of Thai language

This has worked relatively well. The children are exposed to both languages each day for several hours at a time. Generally, the rule is when dad is home English is used.

To further support the acquisition of English I encouraged my friend to never speak any Thai to his children. This has stunted his development in the language but it’s more important that they learn than him.

For the oldest daughter who is home schooled, Dan and his wife taught her to read and write in Thai and English at the same time. Many language experts would disagree with this and suggest that it is better to learn one language first and to transfer those skills to learning a second language. I see their point but my friend wanted his daughter to have native fluency in both languages to the point that if she is having a dream both languages could be used without a problem so to speak.

Challenges

With bilingual children, all language goals are delayed. This is because the child has to acquire double the vocabulary of a monolingual child. My friend’s daughter didn’t really talk until she was three. However, by five things start to move at a normal pace with some “problems”

  • Word order is sometimes wrong. ie my friend’s daughter will use Thai syntax in English and vice versa.
  • Mixing of the two languages at times (code-switching)

Most kids grow out of this.

Conclusion

Raising bilingual children requires finding a balance between the two languages in the home. I have provided one example but I would like to know how you have dealt with this with your children.

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6 thoughts on “Homeschooling Bilingual Children

  1. ellandmeblog

    I haven’t dealt with it yet but my idea is to follow OPOL- one parent, one language. I will speak Spanish to our children, and my husband will speak English. At school age, our children will hopefully go into the Spanish dual language program at school but we will start teaching to read in Spanish, since it is easier, at home and then have them transfer some basic literacy skills to English and deal with phonics at school or at home depending on readiness level.

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    1. Dr. Darrin Post author

      I think this is a great idea. Every family needs to determine what works best for them and the children. In the example in the post, the father is around as much as the mother so this led to the mother have to support English in order to balance out the exposure of both languages. However, this is one of many ways to address this issue.

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  2. Jill

    I was an English teacher in Taiwan and also a licenced teacher in Teaching Chinese as second language. We decided to homeschool boys after sending him to preschool in states for a year. Teaching a kindergarten at home bilingually bases on my teaching experience and intuition. Just hope all the effort and time will be a valuable investment!

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  3. deannastilwell

    I am half Thai and half American (White). I was raised to learn Thai, another Thai language (Issan), and English at the same time. I was born in the U.S., but I went to Thailand every summer for the first 5 years of my life. I didn’t have an initial problem with the languages that I know of until I went to kindergarten in the U.S. I also went to school in Thailand. So I was better at Thai then English and that was fixed with a summer English class. After that I forgot the second Thai language I learned and some of Thai compared to before. I think I would have been fine with all 3 languages, but my parents got a divorce so there wasn’t much effort after to keep learning Thai at at a proficient level. My mom and dad at the time both spoke Thai to me growing up.

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