How Does a Monolingual Parent Raise Bilingual Children?

Is it possible for my children to become bilingual even though my level of fluency in other languages is pathetic, at best?  Of course… but how?

I have been on this journey to bestow the gift of a second language upon my children since they were born.  My goal is to cultivate within each of them an enthusiasm about learning new languages and discovering other cultures.

In my quest to teach that which I do not know, my kids and I have accumulated a treasure trove of French and Spanish children’s books, DVDs, music, computer games, flash cards and other resources and learning tools.

With this sundry assortment of materials, I have been able to introduce my boys to the new languages and help them with comprehension and pronunciation.  They have picked up a considerable amount of French and Spanish vocabulary, and their enunciation is better than mine.

However, at this point, I have nothing further to offer them.  So, I seek outside help.

It is a challenge because, where I live, there is very little support for parents who are trying to raise bilingual or multilingual children.  I have continually searched for language programs with very little success.

We did have a couple of local options which have since fizzled out.  There was an after-school language program in which my son participated, until the company folded.  After that, I found a French and Spanish preschool not far from where we live.  I enrolled my son there and a semester later it, like a dead fish – went belly up.

Given that there are no language immersion schools nearby, (I think the closest is in Miami, some 250 miles away), I have resorted to seeking out private tutoring services.  With this alternative, I want to create an enjoyable second language environment for my kids so that they associate the learning of a new language with fun.

With that in mind, I was able to find an amazing French tutor, (and native speaker – Hooray!), who comes to the house every week for a veritable French playdate.

The tutor is very supportive and truly understands that she needs to make the time she spends with the kids fun and entertaining so that they don’t see it as a chore.   They sing, play board games and even scrapbook together in French!

I think it is important to combine a child’s interests with new language learning to create a stimulus, and to prevent boredom.  Recently, I had let the tutor know that my older son is very interested in all things science-related.   With that in mind, she found some science-based French children’s programming online, and introduced it to him during the last session.  He loved it!

This week they made crepes!  Here D is learning how to measure, pour, mix and eat all en Français!

If I could afford to have the tutor here everyday, I would.  The kids, while having a blast, would become fluent in a very short time.  Alas, I cannot afford it.   So, I need to supplement with further effort on my part.

I must devote more time to language instruction between tutor visits.  It’s so important for them to see me making the effort and learning right along side them.

I know that, to be effective, I must stay organized and come up with creative ways to keep it entertaining.  If you have any tips on how to meet these challenges, PLEASE share them in the comment section.   Thanks!



My name is Jill and I am a thirty-something part-time attorney, and full-time mother of two wonderful and delightfully engaging little boys, ages 6 and 4. Over 6 years ago, I was a full-time attorney and very much enjoyed the working world with all of its perks and pleasures. Then, came baby. Never, before giving birth, had I even considered tossing aside the benefits of my hard-earned law degree and employment status for a life strictly defined by feeding intervals, diaper inspections, and the continual and mesmerizing exchange of gazes and coos with my new little one. Seeing and holding my new baby for the first time triggered my nurture and protect mode, and it has been in full force ever since. I began my incredibly exhausting, yet amazingly gratifying parenting journey that day, and haven’t looked back. Now with two little ones, I feel very thankful for every moment I get to share with my boys and my husband as we take this voyage through life together. My passion is parenting and my parenting philosophy is based upon the commitment to raise my children in ways which encourage an appreciation of the world as a whole, a genuine sense of compassion, and an ongoing feeling of gratitude. I strive to bestow upon them the opportunity of a multi-lingual education, and to expose them to diverse cultural experiences which they can appreciate and enjoy. I believe that this will enhance their brain development, as well as encourage a cultural sensitivity and the insight necessary to be well-adapted to, and to thrive in the ever-increasing globally connected society in which we live. Although my husband and I no longer travel to the extent we did before we had children, and thus far have not had the opportunity to travel with our kids outside the U.S., we strive to create for them global adventures and discoveries about the world through cultural studies, and by the exploration of diverse food, music and festivals. Speaking of the hubby, he is the most well-mannered person I’ve ever met, (thank you, dear mom-in-law), a fantastic father, and a passionate foodie with mad skills in the kitchen. I am quite proud to announce that he is currently working with partners to develop a brand new and exciting Mediterranean-themed restaurant concept. I can’t wait to blog about the delicious details! The idea for this blog was primarily conceived through many chats with good friend and like-minded mom, Kim, (see Kim’s about me page). We have similar parenting philosophies and have joined forces to launch this blog and produce its content. Kim will be blogging from a small village in France where she and her family have recently settled. I will be blogging from my home in Tampa, Florida. Our goal is to stay in close contact with each other and to connect with others around the world by sharing ideas, stories, photos and videos about raising, healthy, happy, globally-enlightened children. My little ones are best buddies with Kim’s five-year-old son and they look forward to keeping in close contact with Kim and her boy on their adventure in France. Our blog will provide the children with many opportunities to share and compare their life experiences from their perspectives in two different parts of the world. They are excited to exchange stories on Skype and email about school, local museums, food, theme parks, and much more! For me, this blog will serve as an exercise in creativity and an invaluable opportunity to challenge myself, daily, to become more open-minded, and to set a great example as a parent by helping my children develop a true feeling of appreciation and optimism about the global community in which they live. It should be noted that I am a research junkie. Always an inquisitive individual, I honed my research skills in law school. Now, with the answer to virtually every conceivable question at my finger tips, I get online every day to attempt to quench my insatiable thirst for knowledge. This blog will enable me to pass along any and all information which I find valuable in terms of parenting, education and global issues. I plan to tweet about these tidbits of significant information upon which I stumble, so please follow us Twitter! We encourage readers to share their stories and photos and look forward to hearing about global parenting experiences from around the world. Please click on our share your story page and connect with us! Jill
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9 Responses to How Does a Monolingual Parent Raise Bilingual Children?

  1. pina madera says:

    Great ideas and approach! Kids definitely learn best when they’re engaged, feeling safe, and having fun. To that end, playing, singing, moving, pursuing an interest are all great vehicles for language-learning.

    One idea I thought of for you, who are monolingual, is to ask that the tutor and the kids post signs around the house, labeling items in French. The goal would be for the kids to teach YOU what they’d learned from her. Engaging in the learning tells them that it’s important, that you value it, and that you’re willing to work at it with them.

    We are raising our boys to speak Spanish. We have learned that songs seem to be the most upbeat and easy way to get them to actually speak. Songs that offer useful phrases are best.

    Another great technique that has worked for us is to offer them lots of choices in the second language (Do you want milk, or juice? Do you think this is a little or a lot of ice cream?), and require that they answer in the second language. It’s important to accept grunts and poor pronunciation as an answer, so that the exchanges are pleasant and low-pressure.

    Please visit our website at to hear some of our Spanish songs (we are working on the French version–slated for 2012) that teach language used during common family activities.


    • Jill says:

      Thank you for your insightful comments and ideas. I’ve already told my son about the labeling concept and he loves it!

      I just checked out the samples of songs on your site and was impressed by the quality of the music. I like that the themes are based upon everyday activities, and that the songs are upbeat and easy to learn.

      I’m excited to hear that you will soon be producing a French version of the songs!

      By the way, as I write this, my 4-year-old is fully engaged in the delightful “Keys to the Treasure” game featured on your site.

      Thanks again,


  2. Heather says:

    I am a graduate student studying best methods for raising bilingual children in a monolingual home. I loved your post, and the idea of teaching young children language through hands-on activities they could do every day (like cooking)! But I am interested to learn: how often did your tutor come to work with your children? And how long were the sessions each time? Most research supports your idea of having consistent face-to-face interaction with a native speaker; and in fact, most experts say that language learning will inevitably be limited if the “human interaction” element is not present. I’m just trying to get a feel for what monolingual parents in the “real world” are doing–and the specifics of how they’re doing it–when it comes to raising bilingual or multilingual children. Any feedback or advice you’d like to give would be wonderful, and very appreciated! Thanks,

    • Jill says:

      Hi, Heather. Now that school has begun again, the tutor comes once per week for at least one hour, sometimes two. Over the summer I usually had her here 2-3 times per week.

      Most sessions have included science experiments or crafts. Recently, the tutor met us at a French bakery where she conducted the lesson in a real-world setting (ordering and dining in French). That went well and the kids enjoyed the change of scenery.

      In the coming weeks she plans to incorporate music lessons into the session.
      It is definitely a challenge to keep it fresh and exciting enough for the kids to want to stay engaged.

      I have recently decided that I will seek out like-minded parents in my community in an effort to set up tutor-led second language play dates. I think the interaction with other children will increase the “fun factor” for the kids.

      The advice I would give any monolingual parent who wants to raise a bilingual child is to start early (from birth) and to expose the child to the sounds of other languages as often as possible through sources such as music, TV and videos. I believe that this is a good primer for second (plus) language acquisition because it trains the ears to tune into the sounds and rhythms. This greatly enhances the child’s ability to speak with native pronunciation.

      Best of luck with your studies, Heather. Thank you for stopping by the blog!


  3. Kelly says:

    I am an English speaking parent of a 13 month old. I am Monolingual; however, I would like my child to be Multilingual. I am looking for good resources for tapes, music and videos to expose her to other languages and sounds. I keep hearing a recurring theme of it being important that they are hearing sounds from native speakers. How to I find the right resources for such media and how to I ensure that they are using native speakers?

  4. Jill says:

    Hi, Kelly! I always love to hear from parents who are interested in helping their children to become multilingual! You’ve asked great questions!

    My first resource recommendation is the Little Pim DVD series. The themes are geared towards babies and young children, and the entire video series is spoken by native speakers.

    There are several languages to choose from. They also have iPad apps available in French, Spanish and Chinese.

    Here is a post I wrote about Little Pim:

    Another series of DVDs which features native speakers is called Professor Toto. The DVDs in this series are designed for children, ages 2 to 8.

    Children’s TV programming for the target language(s) is another great resource. For example, we have subscribed to TV5Monde (French programming) through our cable provider so that my boys are able to watch French TV.

    One more suggestion: Find a native-speaking language tutor so that your child has interactive/conversational experiences, as well. We recently hired a French tutor who uses Skype to video call my 8 year-old son twice per week. He loves it!

    I hope these tips help! Enjoy and have fun on your language learning journey with your little one!

  5. Maria Babin says:

    jill. wow! beautiful story! i will be hosting the multilingual blogging carnival in june and have chosen as the theme how can monolingual or non-native parents raise bilingual or multilingual children. i hope you will participate as your story will be an inspiration to many. this is one of the most frequently asked questions i get! good luck to you in your ambitious and worthy multilingual endeavors! cheers, maria

    • Jill says:

      Hi, Maria! Thank you for the kind words. I would love to participate in your multilingual blogging carnival! I’ll send you an email now!

  6. źżłśę says:

    są przychylne przedstawić całość dokonaj weselnych, totalnie spośród romantycznymi,
    jeżeli oczekują że upodobanie się na nie doniesie im zdeterminowaną
    pomoc. Istnieją diablo racjonalne także jeśliby racja wówczas mogę kupić – niezmienne.
    W 4 sukcesach na 5 wyraźnie zafascynowane utrzymaniem zarządzeń do nazbieranego dobrobycie.

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