So Mia is now just over 1 month old!

Lots of nappy changes, sleepless nights and as you can imagine…

…not much time for anything else!

During Sasha’s pregnancy we often discussed how we would help Mia become a bilingual child.

And to be honest, it’s something that Sasha really worries about.

We live in the UK and several children of her Russian friends struggle to speak Russian well..

…and that’s children living in a Russian speaking household!

Of course, I tell her not to worry. I’m confident Mia will learn Russian in her own time and we just have to try our best to encourage her to speak it.

But what is the best way to achieve this aim?

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Our initial thoughts on raising a truly bilingual child

I’ve spent some time researching this topic online, and there are different approaches. However, what seems clear is there are essentially four bilingual parenting methods for raising children to speak two languages.

1) One parent speaks in the majority language, the other speaks in the minority language.

The majority language is obviously the main language in whatever country you live in.

Therefore in our case, as we live in the UK, I should speak to Mia ONLY in English, and Sasha should ONLY speak in Russian

This method seems the most common approach and several of my friends have suggested it too. It’s also a fairly straightforward strategy to apply in our situation.

Mia will get to hear each language with a native accent, and hopefully learn to speak with Sasha in Russian and myself in English.

However, the issue with this method is how much exposure Mia will have to the Russian language. When Sasha goes back to work, which is our plan in September 2017, Mia will be in an English environment the majority of the time.

This runs the risk of Mia understanding Russian, but only passively. Therefore she will most likely reply back in English, even if Sasha speaks Russian to her.

2) Both parents speak in the minority language at home, and the majority language for the other times.

This approach is called the MLAH method (Minority Language At Home). It’s not as common as the first method as there is an obvious limitation.

It can only work if BOTH parents speak the minority language

In our case, this would present a problem. I can speak Russian reasonably well, but not fluently by any means!

Also, children who are only exposed to the minority language can be a bit behind when they start school and are suddenly surrounded by the majority language.

Both Sasha and I know a couple from Belarus living in London who have adopted this approach and although their 2 children speak Russian like native speakers, since starting pre-school they are finding it difficult to adapt to only hearing/speaking the English language.

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3) Context method 

For this approach, both parents speak each language depending on the situation.

One of the main advantages here is that your child can quickly understand when and where to speak the majority and minority languages. Also, other people in the conversation will never feel left out because you speak whatever language everyone understands.

For example, if Sasha and I are out with English speaking friends, we will both speak English so everyone understands one another. 

And when my in-laws are visiting from Moscow, then we will only speak Russian (they don’t speak English anyway!)

I guess one of the drawbacks of this method is that a child may become more comfortable in one language than the other. Also, there isn’t much consistency in this approach in terms of equal exposure to both languages.

4) Mixing languages

The final strategy is to try and mix the two languages. Parents simply switch between the majority and minority languages whenever they want.

Therefore when the child grows up, they can speak either language naturally. Furthermore, they won’t feel forced to speak one when they don’t want to.

So there is a brief summary of four strategies which we can try to use.

What should we do?

Our decision on the best way to become bilingual

After a lengthy discussion with Sasha, and speaking to friends who have tried to raise a bilingual child (with varying rates of success) we’ve decided to do a combination of the methods above.

  1. Sasha will ONLY speak to Mia in Russian at all times.
  2. I will speak to her in English AND Russian (making sure not to mix languages in the same sentence)
  3. When 3 of us are together, we will try to just speak in Russian (this will be a challenge for me!)
Although my Russian isn’t brilliant, it is good enough to say basic things, talk about colours, animals, numbers etc. For example if I (or Mia) point out a cat in a book, I will say…

“It’s a cat. На русском, Кошка” (in Russian, a cat)

It seems obvious at this stage that I need to improve my Russian language skills, especially as Mia gets older and widens her vocabulary

Final thoughts

My main fear is that Mia may get muddled between the 2 languages, especially when I’m speaking to her, but overall we feel it’s important for her to be exposed to Russian as much as possible.

I think as long as I don’t mix languages in the same sentence it should be ok!

The reason for choosing this approach is once Sasha goes back to work after maternity leave, we both feel Mia just won’t be exposed to enough Russian on a weekly basis.

We live in London and once Mia starts school she’ll be immersed in the English language all the time. There is a Russian school near us, which we can attend once a week, and I know Mia will make some friends with Russian speaking children, but this on it’s own is probably not enough.

Therefore, we have to do as much as we can at home to encourage her to understand and speak the language.

To help with Mia’s exposure to Russian, Sasha will also speak to me in Russian when Mia is with us. I can understand most thinks Sasha says to me in Russian, but answering back consistently will be a challenge!

Consequently, I do have some concerns with this, but I’m prepared to see how it goes.

Mia should also probably learn to write in Russian when she’s older, and learn about Russian culture too. This will hopefully help her feel the need to speak the language more.

So what do you think of our plan? Anyone adopted a similar approach? I think as long as we’re consistent, we’ll get there!

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