Embracing Diversity: Bilingual families

Bilingual families are the norm: In A Little Book of Language, author David Crystal observes that about 75% of all people grow up speaking more than one language.

This page presents the view that your first language is a precious gift to your child and a foundation for learning other languages. It also lists sources of more information on raising and educating bilingual children.

Burnaby Public Library has a growing collection of childrens books in many languages.

Your first language

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This information in 26 languages (see right-hand menu)

Your child benefits when you speak your first language. How?
  • It is easier for children who speak their first language well to learn English.
  • Children with strong language skills do better at school.
  • Your child will be able to communicate with family members and others who speak your language.
  • Both your child's self-esteem and sense of cultural identity will be enhanced.
Your child's language develops most when you speak your first language. Why?
  • You can better explain ideas, concepts and thoughts to your child.
  • You can challenge your child by using more advanced vocabulary.
  • You can share jokes and other word play.
Talk, talk, talk!
  • Talking together in your first language is one of the best ways to help your child get ready to read.
  • Talk about activities and surroundings throughout the day. Ask your child questions.
  • Tell stories about your family and culture. Discuss special family events, photos, recipes or traditional clothing.
  • Sing songs and rhymes.
  • Encourage your child to retell a favourite story or make up a new one.
Read and play with your child in your first language
  • Share books with your child.  Childrens books in many languages can be borrowed from Burnaby Public Library.
  • Read the same stories over and over. Children enjoy and learn from repetition.
  • Make your own first language dictionary using pictures from old magazines.
  • Ask questions which encourage your child's participation in stories, such as "Why is that happening?", "What do you think will happen next?" or "What does this picture show?"
  • Keep reading time fun so you'll both want more.
Be a good role model!
  • Let your child see you enjoying reading and writing in your first language.
Should I use English with my children?

There may be times when you both want to practice English. But the most important thing is to talk and read a lot, in whichever language is most comfortable for you.

More information

Find books and DVDs about raising or educating a bilingual child

Multilingual Children’s Organization
Offers tips and advice from parents on raising a bilingual or multilingual child. 

Dual Language Development
Addresses concerns about exposing babies to two languages. From Zero to Three, the National Center for Babies, Toddlers, and Families (USA).

Bilingualism: Frequently Asked Questions [PDF]
Presents information from the publication Bilingual Children: A Guide for Parents and Carers. From the website of the National Literacy Trust (UK).

Raising Bilingual Children
Lists common parental concerns and provides responses based on scientific research. From the website of the Center for Applied Linguistics (USA).

Second Language
Expert information from the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. Includes the article Second-Language Acquisition and Bilingualism at an Early Age and the Impact on Early Cognitive Development (PDF).

Brochure for Parents of ESL Learners
Explains what is involved in learning a new language and encourages parents to continue using their first language with their children. Produced by the English as a Second Language (ESL) Provincial Specialist Association of the BC Teachers’ Federation.