Bilingual Children Without a Bilingual Parent: where to start?

On any given day in our house you are likely to hear English, Hawaiian, Filipino, Thai, or Japanese.  We, like most people in Hawaii, pepper our speech with words, phrases and expressions from other cultures.  Although Mr A and I speak only English fluently, we both have a basic understanding of at least one other language.

Being a student of language myself (a student who regretfully has yet to attain the level of mastery she desires) I strongly believe that a more systematic approach to communication is going to prove to be the most fruitful for my children.

Take my husband for example.  Raised in a similar environment of synthesized speech, he has an impressive vocabulary of about 500 non-English words and phrases.  However, he doesn't have enough command of the grammar to use any of these in a non-English speech pattern (unless its HAE/pidgin English, which is grammatically closer to Hawaiian).

Living in this house, its a given that our kids will pick up the vocabulary.  I want them to also be able to communicate (speaking and listening, reading and writing) in another language. But I dont even speak Hawaiian!!!  So where do I start?

  1. First things first, pick a language.  For the purposes of our house we have picked Hawaiian - something that is culturally significant to us and has available resources in our community to supplement our lack of knowledge/fluency.
  2. Read books in your language of choice.  You might not understand what you are saying, but to a baby its all the same anyhow - besides, reading aloud is good practice.
  3. Watch movie or listen to music/stories in language of choice.  It helps to familiarize you with the speech patterns and pronunciation, not to mention gives your kid an opportunity to hear some native speakers.
  4. Learn some basic phrases and commit to using those phrases in your second language only.  Things like "come here" "stand up" "sit down" "be quiet" "what's this/that?" "good job!" are all good places to start.
  5. Take a class or find a language immersion play group. Aha Punana Leo (the Hawaiian immersion school) offers free Hawaiian language classes here on Monday nights.  I went last night for the first time and it was good fun!  The more native speaker you can interact with, the better!
These are just a few ideas for how to get started introducing another language to your infant or toddler, especially if you aren't bilingual yourself.
 My guess is that I am going to get out of this what I put into it.  So, no mo' hilahila (shame) - dive right in and start speaking today!

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