Two languages at home with your toddler

by Maxine
Posted November 6 2011 11:09pm
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We often hear that children are like “sponges”, and that they can learn any language easily while they are young. This is true, but only when they have lots of exposure to the language. Children can only absorb as much as they are given. This means that for your child to develop his or her ability to use both languages equally well, your child must hear and eventually speak both languages often.

In some communities, this can happen naturally if both languages have equal status and the child is exposed to various people, in the family and beyond, who speak one language or the other (or both). In other cases, raising a bilingual child requires conscious planning and effort. Both parents will need to agree on their strategies for making this happen.

If one of you speaks English and the other parent speaks a minority language, like French in many parts of Canada, or any other language that is not widely used in your community, it is important to create opportunities for the child to be exposed to that language. Children understand from a young age that one of their languages is not used very much outside their home, and because they naturally have more opportunities to hear and speak English, their ability to use the other language may lag. This can lead to a situation where the child understands the other language, but does not speak it.

Here are some tips to help your child be bilingual

Speak your own native language to your child. You are a better model for your child when you use the language you know best.

Develop a social network that includes both languages. Attending friendly gatherings, community events and doing other activities with people who speak each language provide opportunities to practice, and reinforce the message that both languages are useful and valued.

Ensure that your child develops a strong foundation in the minority language from a young age by enrolling him or her, if possible, in a child care or preschool where the minority language is the primary or only language spoken.

Research and create a list of services available in the minority language, and give them a preference (e.g. health professionals like doctors and dentists, as well as libraries, movie theatres, community centres, etc). This may involve planning ahead, or driving a little further, but your efforts will greatly benefit your child.

Make sure you have books, videos/DVDs and music in both languages in your home, and that your child is exposed to them. This reinforces your child’s language skills and strengthens your child’s appreciation of each of your cultures.

Arrange visits to and from family members who speak the minority language. Stays abroad or visits from extended family can give a boost to the language that tends to be neglected.

Depending on the languages you speak and the community where you live, some of these options may not be available. The important thing is to create as much balance as possible between the two languages, and to start doing this as early as possible in your child’s life.


Do you speak more than one language in your home? Do you encourage and provide your child with the tools he needs to speak both? Share your experiences below by leaving a comment.

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The importance of reading to your toddler

by Maxine
Posted January 4 2012 05:41pm
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Reading is one of those pleasurable activities parents can engage their children in, that provides so many developmental benefits. When done on a regular basis, reading helps young children to develop language and listening skills and prepares them for recognizing the written word. Most importantly, reading provides the opportunity for parent and child to enjoy each other's company in a quiet, fun and emotionally satisfying way. 


Make reading a part of your child's daily bedtime routine. From the youngest infant to the oldest preschooler, reading at bedtime provides comfort and security. The nicest way to end the day is sharing a favourite story with a parent.

Pay attention to which pages or books become your child's favourite. When you support your child's interests he gets the message that what he likes or cares about is valued.

Describe the emotions shown in pictures or in the characters, e.g., "Baby bear looks sad. Do you think he needs a hug?" Young children need to hear and learn the words for feelings as they begin to make sense of their own emotions.



Take time to talk about the story together. Say, "I wonder what will happen next" or ask, "What do you think this girl is going to do?" This simple conversation stretches your child's imagination and creative thinking. For younger children ask them to point to an object when you ask, "Where's the cow?" or wait for a response when you ask, "What's that?" Very young children will learn that communication is a two way process.

Change the tone of your voice and use lots of animation in your face, e.g., whisper for someone who is sleeping, or use a lower tone for something that is big. This will engage your child in the story and she will also learn to watch your face and listen to your voice for different emotions.


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Reread stories that have become favourites and leave out key words or phrases. Your child will love to fill in the blanks, practice beloved rhymes or take the opportunity to retell the story in her own words. This will make reading an interactive experience.

Take the opportunity to talk about the colour, shape and size of objects. Your child will be into his preschool years before he’ll be able to identify and label the abstract concepts of size, shape and colour but books provide a simple vehicle to make them aware of such concepts.

Reading is a great opportunity to bond with your toddler and to instill in her, a love of reading. For more on reading with your child, check out The Benefits of Reading with your Toddler

What books do you read with your child? Share you suggestions below!

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