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Beyond a wonderful way to honor and celebrate your family’s heritage, raising your girl to speak more than one language can give her a big leg up when it comes to landing a job, traveling the globe, and even learning new concepts in general. “The more ways your daughter has to express herself, the better,” says Dr. Adriana Weisleder, Director of the Child Language Lab at Northwestern University.
But there are probably a few things you don’t know about being a truly bilingual girl in today’s world. Here are six things bilingual kids want you to know:
1. Her vocab will grow
Comparing her vocabulary levels to girls who grow up speaking only one language isn’t helpful. Chances are, she knows just as many words as her peers, they’re just split across two different languages. She’ll likely catch up over time—but if your girl seems to be struggling to communicate in any of her languages, Dr. Weisleder says it can’t hurt to check in with her pediatrician.
2. Mixing languages isn’t a mistake
When your girl switches from your native tongue to English midway through a sentence, it’s not because she doesn’t know which language is which. Cognitive experts say it’s just that she has more choices available to communicate her feelings and is taking full advantage of them.
3. Don’t take it personally if she wants to speak English
There are many perfectly understandable reasons why she might prefer to speak English in certain situations. From being tired after school (she could find it easier to keep speaking in the language she’s been chatting in all day) to wanting to fit in more with English-only friends, it’s almost definitely not about you. That doesn’t mean you should give into her, but it’s a good reason to pause and not take her reticence to heart.
4. When you treat her second language as a chore, she’ll see it as one
If you’re practicing another language with her at home, that’s great, but make sure to keep the focus on spending time together and enjoying each other’s company—not on giving her a pop-quiz every day. “At-home language acquisition doesn’t need to feel like school,” says Dr. Weisleder. “Playing games and reading stories together in your home language makes the experience fun for everybody and will broaden her vocabulary, too.”
5. Playing translator opens up her world—a lot
It makes her proud to play such an important role as a helper in your family (even if she complains from time to time), but translating for adults sometimes puts your girl in the middle of grown-up situations like financial decisions and medical issues that are beyond her age. All of this is teaching her a real sense of responsibility that will serve her through her life, but be patient with her, as there might be a lot of pressure on her little shoulders.
6. She’s grateful, even if she doesn’t always show it
It takes time and patience to give your girl the gift of multiple languages! She might complain from time to time, but deep down, she’s thankful to have another rich and beautiful ways to communicate with the world.