BILINGUALISM – Guide for parents

The importance of the mother tongue


Language is an expedient to express knowledge about the world and for the understanding with others.


The mother tongue bears cultural knowledge in itself, meaning: when learning it, the mental and social possibilities of a child are distinctly marked.

When a child is able to fall back upon linguistic competence in the mother tongue, it will develop the premises and strategies for learning a second language.


If the mother tongue is neglected, the common functions for speaking are reduced.

Children learning a second language will always do this on the foundation of their linguistic experiences in their mother tongue made.


They shouldn’t be allowed to leave the development of their mother tongue behind, but a second language has to come in addition.


Living bilingual

A bilingual surrounding offers the child a chance to belong to different cultures, because living with two languages means also living with two cultures that find expression in the language.


However bilingualism is only able to promote the identity of a child, where each language and culture is experienced to be valuable in every-day-situations.


For most children, with a normal development, bilingualism is no problem.


When children are confronted from birth with both languages, normally they are able to learn these without mistakes or accent. This is also possible, when a second language is introduced before the child has to go to school.


Behaviour in different family – situations

The stability of the languages depends on the availability of heard language and of practical uses of the languages. For this, family situation makes a big difference:

  1. Only one of the parents speaks German: each parent should speak to the child in his/her own language and use the same language in the same situation. The separation of the languages should be clear for the child.
  2. Neither parent speaks German: it is of great importance for the child to learn its mother tongue completely. German has to be promoted in the education and in leisure time.
  3. Both parents speak different foreign languages: they should agree on a family – language, in which the parents can communicate best (it doesn’t have to be German). This language should be offered to the child at home. German can come in addition in the sphere outside.
  4. In very difficult cases there have to be found individual solutions for the family situation, best with expert consulters who know the social situation of the family and are able to value the linguistic problems.


Possible difficulties

It is normal for children who grow up bilingual to have a reduces vocabulary in each language, but the grammar develops normally. The parents should take care to show the child that it is able to act in both languages. Then there will be a high motivation to learn the languages.

Under unfavourable conditions in a bilingual situation, it is possible, for example with very sensitive children, that a retardation of the language-development takes place, though the language-development disposition is normal. It is also possible that the language of a child is retarded because of disposition.

If the development of language doesn’t appear to be according to the age of the child, it is recommended to consult a speech therapist.

When a child has a handicap of the common development (like auditory defects, defects of the mental development), it is better for it to learn only one language.

If this is suspected, it is recommended to the parents or consults the doctor or a speech therapist to decide about bilingual education.


Where can you get consultations?

– with speech therapists in intercultural projects or free practice


– with Bayouma – Haus

Health project for immigrants

Frankfurter Allee 110

10247 Berlin

Tel.: 29049136, Fax: 2904129


– in the consultation for person with auditory defects and retardation of language

BA Friedrichshain – Kreuzberg

Koppenstr. 38-40, 10243 Berlin

Tel.: 90298 2824, Fax: 90298 2060


– in the consultation for language defects

BA Reinickendorf, Teichstraße 65,

13407 Berlin

Tel.: 90294 – 5035



Katy Vorwieder, Bettina Kern-Gohs (logopedicians), Dr. Kerstin Maul (ear, nose and throat doctor), consultation for person with auditory defects and retardation of language Friedrichshain – Kreuzberg