Successful Tips for Bilingual Kids


Credit Image : the Internet. Key word : Bilingual Kid.

Once I heard a saying that ‘Being in a mixed marriage family can give a lot of benefits to their children, and one of them is mastering a language for free, without any cost at all.’

This post is not meant to be judgmental. It’s just that we are as parents probably on a different ship from many other parents coming from different countries, who decided to get married and have children. There are two different ships in this case:

  1. The ship where the parents think that it’s not necessary that my kid(s) speak(s) my mother tongue (whatever that is) so long as s(he) understands it, I am fine. After all, s(he) doesn’t live, say, in Indonesia, so it’s not necessary s(he) can speak Bahasa Indonesia. S(he) can learn it as s(he) grows. We just do not want to force them, because forcing them is some kind of abusing in a different form. We let it flow, so long as we can communicate, then it’s fine.
  2. The ship where the parents think that it’s indeed necessary that not only do my kids understand Indonesian passively, but also they can speak it actively. They do not live in Indonesia, and their communities are not Indonesians, and further more they don’t even speak Indonesian at all. However, the parents who are on this second ship think that speaking Indonesian is necessary, because they are after all Indonesians, even if they choose to be Germans later on, still they have Indonesian blood. They have families in Indonesia, whom we believe want to interact with them directly, you know without our help interpreting what they want to say freely. We believe speaking more than one language will pay off later on when they grow up.

No ship goes to the wrong direction! There is no such thing as a wrong direction in this case! It just all depends on where you as parents want to go with your kids!but we are happy that we are on the second ship, and we know we are going to the direction we want to go, which is A BILINGUAL ISLAND (bilingual according to a language dictionary is someone who speaks two languages fluently.) So, if you are on the same ship as we are, welcome on board! let’s sail together! and I will share you successful tips to make your kids speak not only papa’s language, but also in mama’s language actively, and confidently! shall we begin the cruise?

The Cruise is actually begun when my kid was still in the womb, yep, that tiny creature that was not even able to hear me yet.

  1. When my baby was in the womb, I never talked to her in any other languages, but Indonesian. OK, I did say some foreign languages like English, and Arabic, but they were not dominant. I would say that I kept on talking to my baby in Indonesian, for example, I asked her to cooperate with me so that this pregnancy went smoothly. When she kicked my belly whereas it was the sleeping time, I asked her why she did not sleep. This thing may sound crazy! but every mom knows that babies can hear their moms’ voices while they are in the wombs.
  2. Right after my baby was born, instead of saying ‘Oh, welcome to the world my baby!’ which is English, I said this phrase in Bahasa Indonesia ‘Selamat datang anakku!’ This habit continues until now, which means I use Bahasa Indonesia.
  3. My baby started to utter two words when she was 11 months, like ‘mau makan'( want to eat), ‘mau buah’ (want some fruits) ,etc. I never really reciprocated in any other languages, but Indonesian. How about reading? yes, we do have many children German books of course. When it comes to reading German books, I do read her them without translating the whole texts, however my reinforcement questions are asked in Indonesian. For example, the book tells a story about a fox, who wants to learn to hunt for food. My question to her would be like this ‘Oh, serigalanya mau apa?’ (Oh what will the fox do?) Sometimes I do translate some German words into Indonesian, but not all.Keep the conversation going smoothly and naturally!
  4. When she mixes her languages, for example ‘Bunda, aku mau Essen’ ( Essen : to eat).’Bunda I want to eat’, instead of responding to that statement by saying ‘OK, mau makan apa?’ (OK, what do you want to eat?’) I say ‘Kamu mau makan ? Essen? Makan?’ (Do you want to eat ? Essen? to eat?’ ). I emphasized the word ‘Essen’ to ‘Makan’ (eat), then amazingly she responded ‘Ya makan’ (yes, eat!). I keep on repeating the word ‘makan’ in other sentences, to me it’s like giving her some other examples, like ‘OK, mau makan. makan apa?’ (Ok, you want to eat, what do you want to eat?) this is what I call as naturally fixing problem, without telling her that it’s wrong. And also a repetition, because the most effective learning comes with repetition.
  5. When my kid reached 3 years old, and her vocabulary in Bahasa Indonesia and German are already a lot, so many that I even have to ask my husband what she means. She often talked to me in German, which I actually often did not respond , and said ‘Please use Bahasa Indonesia!’ or ‘I don’t speak German, please use Indonesian!.‘ IF people call me ‘Too strict‘ this is wrong! I am not using a negation here, instead I use ‘please!‘ which matches to the key of raising kids bilingually ‘Be Gentle’. I do not blame her by saying ‘Do not use German to me!’. The result was that she tried to use Indonesian happily. Why happily and not angrily? because I have applied this rule since she was born, yep. I keep on telling her that I speak Indonesian early on.
  6. When she reached a new world, which was a kindergarten world,I noticed her habit slowly changed. It might have been the German community she is in. Before Kindergarten, she spent the whole day with me, and after Kindergarten her engagement to her German community is of course more intense, thus I understand if she used more German to me, BUT once again, our ship is sailing to a BILINGUAL direction (Bilingual according to a language dictionary means that someone WHO SPEAKS fluently two languages. So if your kid only understands one language, say, Indonesian, that can’t be said that she is Bilingual. She is not bilingual, but her family is.) so I needed to bring her right back on the same ship as ours. I keep on telling her ‘Use Indonesian, please!’ or ‘ I do not speak German, please use Indonesian!’. She’s been in the kindergarten for almost 2 years, and guess what? it did not take long to bring her again on the same board as we. I believe it’s because of the strong foundation we have been keeping since she was still in my womb, let’s sjust say, since she was a baby.
  7. There are the times when she doesn’t understand the Indonesian term of, take for an example: ‘Angst’ (fear), or ‘takut’ in Bahasa Indonesia. She will ask like this ‘Was heiß das nochmal ‘Angst’ in Indonesich?’ OK, this is an acception where I allow her to ask in German, because it’s a part of learning, a part of answering her quest. I mean instead of telling her to ask in Indonesian, I help her say in Indonesian ‘ Apa itu ‘Angst’ didalam bahasa Indonesia?’ and she automatically responded ‘Ya, apa Bunda?’ (yes, what is it Bunda?’). Then I say ‘Oh, Angst dalam bahasa Indonesia itu ‘takut’ (Oh Angst in Indonesian means takut .’) and amazingly, she repeated what she wanted to say in a complete Indonesian using the word ‘Takut’.


Here are the results of what we have been doing sticking with OPOL (One Parent One Language) after all these years:

  1. When we went back to Indonesia last February (she was 4,5 years old by then). She showed a very great self confidence using Indonesian to my Indonesian family, and friends, to people at small shops, who asked her some questions, to staff in the hotels we stayed during our holiday there. When they asked her in English, she shook her head, and I told them she could speak Indonesian. She confidently confirmed ‘ Ya, aku bisa bahasa Indonesia.’ – Yes, I can speak Indonesian.
  2. All of a sudden, she became a German teacher to anyone, who asks her some German words. She taught them German, and easily switched to Indonesian, you know just like a language teacher.
  3. When someone asks her to speak in German, she knew they were only ‘playing around’ and she did not answer anything, but when that someone said she wanted to know the German word of, say, ‘Selamat Pagi (good morning), she answered it eloquently, self confidently, and slowly. She is like a language teacher telling her students ‘ OK, repeat after me!’ – Guu teeen Mor gen! Guten Morgen!
  4. Whenever she has a conversation with her papa in German, and there is the word I do not understand, she explains me in Indonesian.
  5. I tend to use English or German, when I am mad at her. She understands!, but she responds it in Indonesian. It’s like a reminder to me ‘hey use Indonesian even if I am mad at her’.

I know, these all sound crazy for those who are not used to it, for those who belong to the first ship. However, it all depends on YOUR GOALS as parents. OUR GOAL is to build a strong foundation in her brain,which is still every elastic and can absorb a lot of things, so that she can be a bilingual person, and later on a multilingual person as we (my husband and I speak English with each other most of the time.)

Here are some common responses I get from the parents on the first ship:

  • Ah she doesn’t live in Indonesia, no need to be able to speak it fluently.

I respond : Well, we do not know what happens in the next future. Who knows, she will be in Indonesia as a scientist, an anthropologist, an athlete or any other good things, by then we only prepare her for the future. FYI, my husband has a cousin, whose mother is an Indonesian. She is a medical student in Germany, and two years ago she did a research about Malaria, which made her travel to the homeland of her mother: INDONESIA! and she speaks Indonesian pretty well, even though she said she needed to improve her Indonesian more. Last year, when we got together in Germany, her German daddy asked her how it was to speak two languages, whether or not she felt confused- she admitted she did not feel confused, it just happened! she did not think that hard to say in Indonesian. Even though she has some problems with some Indonesian words,but it is not such a big deal. I asked her what language her mom used at home,and she said that her mom spoke Indonesian all the time.

  • Well, Indonesian is easy. It can be learned within 6 months, or a year.

I respond : Well, every kid is unique, my kid may not be as genius as your kid. I think it’s an advantage for her especially to be able to learn a language freely and within a natural community. And my kid might not be interested that much in a language as she grows, we do not know, so it’s a kind of an investement to start introducing her to a different language.

  • I do not want to force her. It’s not nice!

I respond : Well, learning needs some motivation, and repetition. It needs a hard work, just like when you learn, say, MATH or ENGLISH at school. To get a goood mark, you need to study, to be able to do MATH and speak ENGLISH, you need a hard work to make it come true. We are not forcing, but we are giving her facilities that are already available for free, which she can use for her future. It depends on your strategy to introduce a language to your kid. If you do it gently! I won’t say it’s forcing.

We know that we have set a strong language foundation in her brains. The cruise is sailing to a wider world, which means the challenges might be bigger, but we believe by being:

CONSISTENT, PERSISTENT, GENTLE, and PATIENT our ship will finally land to a BILINGUAL ISLAND successfullly, I mean a really big Island of great opportunities because she speaks more than one language.


It’s a blessing to raise kids bilingually! more over seeing them being bilingual as well!

See my other posts related to the cruise: the journey to successfully raise kids bilingually here:

1.Language Observation : Code Mixing and Code Switching

2. Language Observation : Du mußt schlafe, oder?

3 responses to “Successful Tips for Bilingual Kids

  1. How interesting! Much depends also on the child. We are Dutch immigrants to Canada. Our daughter was effortlessly bilingual from day one. Our son had problems. He had some learning disabilities and had trouble learning two languages. We did not make a big fuss over it. When they were small the main language at home was Dutch. I would read to them in Dutch, translating the English children’s books into Dutch as we went. Slowly, as we all dispersed to the world outside of home for school and work, we started speaking more English at home as well. Dutch returned when Oma and aunt came visiting but not enough. Ironically, son is the one with an accent, go figure. I admire your insistence that your children learn bahasa Indonesia.

  2. IMHO, if everything depends on the child, then we all parents would always say ‘go with the flow’, I think it’s more to a habit early on, because I think it’s much easier to insert new information, implent new habits to a kid, since say, a baby. So what she or he learns has become a habit and a routine that is not so easy to break-. We use three languages at home: Indonesian, German, and ENglish. I know, I mean I keep on reminding myself that consistency is the key. I admire your patience translating the books. Me? I read them as they are in the original languages, but the reinforcement like retelling them is in Bahasa Indonesia.

  3. Pingback: Tips Menuju Anak Berbasis Bilingual | The Pearl of Java·

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