How Can Parents Enhance Child’s Bilingual Development?

February 23, 2017 4:38 pm


Parents are the key figures in supporting the active bilingualism since they provide a language input for their children, which is shown to have an essential role in developing bilingual proficiency. Therefore, they strive to support the child’s bilingualism by using the appropriate strategies.

How can parents enhance child's bilingual development

Three main transmission strategies, which ensure a language input for the children are: (1) 1P/1L strategy; (2) 1P/2L strategy and (3) 1P/1L & 1P/2L strategy. The most striking finding to emerge from the literature is that the 1P/1L & 1P/2L strategy is the most effective one. The success is particularly highlighted when both parents share a minority language at home since the input frequency is high. De Houwer (2007) and Yamamoto (2001) underscore that a language exposure the parents provide children with is more crucial factor than the number of languages parents use when speaking to the children. The information presented in this paper can be used to help bilingual families to decide which transmission strategy would be appropriate for their family environment.

Key words: multilingual, family, children, development, language, bilingualism


How Can Parents Enhance Child's Bilingual Development-

Due to the effects of economic and technological changes in our postmodern society, an individual has become hypermobile. Furthermore, the European Union emphasizes language learning as an important priority. Its objective is that “every European citizen should master two other languages in addition to their mother tongue”. (Language Policy, European Parliament, 2017). Since the number of people who continually migrate increases, many societies become increasingly multicultural and multilingual. Consequently, the interest in a family language policy has considerably grown in the last decade. Considering that the people who move to another country have different cultural and language background, the question about fostering a child bilingualism arises. Nowadays, when bilingualism and even trilingualism is considered to have a significant value both in a cultural and economic sense, there is a growing body of literature that recognizes the importance of parents’ role in children’s language development. The studies over the past two decades have provided valuable information on the factors influencing the bilingual outcome. However, the factors which could ensure the balanced bilingualism are still unsettled. As a speech and language pathologist, I am interested in the most successful strategy parents can use to raise an active bilingual child.

This essay offers a preview of relevant literature on bilingual families with the focus on the parental use of transmission strategies and their consequential outcome. Prior to analyzing the parental transmission strategies,

the broader issues will be explained to obtain the framework for understanding the factors leading to the active bilingualism. Ideologies and family language policy profoundly affect the parents’ choice concerning the transmission strategies. Therefore, the following paragraph emphasizes the importance of family language policy (FLP) and language ideologies, which are firmly linked.

How Can Parents Enhance Child's Bilingual Development4

Ideologies and family language policy (FLP)


Language ideologies are social constructs influenced by history, economy, politics and social environment in which a particular language is used (Blommaert, 2005; Curdt-Christiansen 2014). Furthermore, the ideologies are built on the beliefs a person has regarding a language’s value and power in a certain society. King, Fogle and Logan-Terry (2008) state that ideologies have the greatest impact on the family language policies, as they strongly How Can Parents Enhance Child's Bilingual Developmentinfluence the parent’s attitudes and beliefs about a particular language. Moreover, attitudes and parental beliefs are essential factors in upbringing an active bilingual speaking child (De Houwer, 2009). The parents’ bilingual experience also strongly impacts the parents’ language ideologies (Curdt-Christiansen, 2009; Kirsch, 2011) which consequently reflects on transmission strategies. Interestingly enough, the same families are found to use conflicting ideologies and contradictory strategies while aiming to raise the bilingual children (Curdt-Cristiansen, 2016).

Family Language Policy / Family Language management

Curt-Christiansen (2009) defines family language policy as an intentional effort to include all family members in specific language practices. According to Spolsky (2004), the language policy consists of three main segments: (1) language beliefs or ideologies (people’s thoughts about language), (2) language practices (what is done with language) and, (3) efforts to transform the first two practices using language intervention or language management (what people attempt to do with a language). It is important to bear in mind the possible cultural differences regarding raising a child and parenting which also influences the family language policies and consequently the parents’ strategies regarding bilingualism.

This section has provided a short definition of ideology and family language policy and has argued that they profoundly influence the children’s bilingual outcome. The next part of this paper will define what transmission strategies are, how they differ and how efficient they are.

Parental transmission strategies

The family has a crucial role in providing a language input for their children (De Houwer, 2009; Venables, Eisenchlas, & Schalley, 2013). Furthermore, the complexity of the family settings needs to be taken into account when considering a bilingual child upbringing. Although there are no unique bilingual families, some general language patterns could be found (De Houwer, 2009). On the one hand, some bilingual parents use two languages when talking to each other and continue to do so after the birth of their child. On the other hand, bilingual parents with different language backgrounds perhaps talk in only one language at home but after the child is born, each parent addresses the infant in a language that differs from the one they use for mutual communication between each other. Besides, some bilingual parents intentionally address their infant in only one language. Those examples illustrate the complicatedness of parents’ language patterns which are influenced by various factors.

It has been commonly assumed that children brought up in a bilingual or trilingual family would automatically acquire the languages of their parents.  However, Barron-Hauwaert, (2000), De Houwer (2009) and Yamamoto (2001) highlight the parent’s role in enhancing the children’s active bilingualism, especially when minority language is concerned. To promote children’s active language use in the minority language, parents need to provide as much as language input in the language as possible.

How Can Parents Enhance Child's Bilingual Development3According to De Houwer (2009), the bilingual parents use three main transmission strategies when speaking the children: (1) 1P/1L strategy, a parent uses one language that differs from the other parent’s language when addressing a child; (2) 1P/2L strategy, the parents use the same two languages when talking to a child; (3) 1P/1L & 1P/2L strategy, one parent uses only one language when addressing a child while the other parent addresses a child in the same language as the other does and in one additional one . It needs to be taken into consideration that those three strategies are simplified and do not fully match real-life situations. Additionally, the ‘minority language at home’ strategy (mL@H), also known as ‘hot-house strategy,’ has become recently prominent. This strategy entails two parents who speak different languages but who deliberately decided to use only one language at home. However, this strategy requires at least two predispositions: (1) it can be employed only when a competence of a majority speaking parent in a minority language is on a level which ensures a possibility to participate in everyday family discourse; (2) a majority speaking parent needs to have a positive attitude towards minority language (Barron-Hauwaert, S., 2004; Venables, Eisenchlas, & Schalley, 2013).

Find out more about parental transmission strategies and their effectiveness in our next post! :)

Ivana FilipcicIvana Filipčić, study visitor at TermCoord. Ivana holds a Master’s degree in Speech and Language Pathology from the University of Zagreb, Croatia. Working with children for three years she has been fascinated by the language acquisition, especially in bilinguals with different cultural backgrounds. Being highly motivated to learn more about the multilingual language and communication development she is now doing a Master Degree in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts at the University of Luxembourg. Her professional interest professional interest lies in the bi/multilingualism, as well as communication and language development in children with language and/or social communication difficulties.




  • Barron-Hauwaert, S. (2000) Issues surrounding trilingual families: Children with simultaneous exposure to three languages. Available at: (Accessed: 23 February 2017).
  • Barron-Hauwaert, S. (2004). Language strategies for bilingual families (1st ed.). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
  • Blommaert, J. (2006). Language Policy and National Identity.In Ricento, T. (Ed.), In An Introduction to Language Policy: Theory and Method, 238–254. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  • Curdt-Christiansen, X.L. and Technological, N. (2009) Invisible and visible language planning: Ideological factors in the family language policy of Chinese immigrant families in Quebec, 351-375. Available at: (Accessed: 23 February 2017).
  • De Houwer, A. (2009). Bilingual first language acquisition (1st ed.). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.
  • Franke, M. and Mennella, M. (2016) Language policy | EU fact sheets | European parliament. Available at: (Accessed: 23 February 2017).

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