Raising your child to be bilingual takes a lot of extra effort.
Most parents know that — or they find out very quickly!
But there is also additional expense to keep in mind, as well as additional effort.
Does that mean it’s a bad idea? Of course not. Helping your child to become proficient at any skill costs a little extra money, whether it’s a second language, an athletic skill, a musical talent, or anything else.
And with the long-term rewards and benefits of bilingualism, which we’ve discussed here, there’s no reason not to see this as a good investment.
But you should be aware of the costs associated with a bilingual upbringing ahead of time. We’ve laid out the most common expenses here, and provided an estimate of the costs you can expect.
These are basic, straightforward costs you’ll need to pay. Some are one-time expenses, while others are recurring.
Books & Other Written Materials
A bilingual child needs written materials in both languages. That includes books, workbooks, comics, non-fiction; even small items like menus or brochures in their second language.
Collect these over time, and keep an eye out for second-hand or borrowed options rather than buying things new, but once your child reaches reading age, expect this to be a regular expense.
Estimated Cost: $100-300 per year.
Your child isn’t the only one who’ll need books. You’ll want to have at least three or four of the most useful bilingual parenting books for your own personal library.
This is mostly an upfront expense. You’ll do a lot of the research before your child is born or early in his or her life. After that you can use non-book resources like this website to stay on top of your parenting education.
Estimated Cost: $20-$50 up front and then up to $50 per year on educational courses.
Toys and Media
Items from a child’s second culture can help create a deeper bond with that culture’s language. Movies and cartoons are useful because of the spoken language in them.
Sometimes these things can be found online for free, but other times you will have to buy them in person or online.
Estimated Cost: $10-$50 per month
Cultural Items and Clothing
Like toys, things like clothing, decorations, and traditional housewares from a second culture can help a child feel more immersed in both his or her heritages.
Even a child who isn’t learning a heritage language (that is, his or her second language is not spoken by either parent’s families), bringing more items into the house from cultures that speak the language is a good idea.
Keep an eye out for good deals on these, and add them to your home intermittently.
Estimated Cost: $30-$100 per year, depending on the items.
This is one that not many people think about! But if you’re ordering books or cultural items online from other countries, the shipping can be quite expensive.
Try to save costs here by saving up and ordering in bulk (especially from sites with free shipping over a certain total). You can also leave room in your luggage when you travel abroad and bring items back yourself, and ask relatives visiting from other countries to bring items with them as well.
Estimated Cost: Varies widely – could be anywhere from $10-$100 per order, depending on the items and the distance traveled.
Cooking traditional recipes from a different culture can be challenging, depending on your grocery store options. Some ingredients will be very hard to find, while others will be available and cost about the same as local foods from the majority culture.
Be willing to pay a little bit more now and then to give your child a wide and varied food culture. It’s good for their immersion, teaches them new words, and it’s healthier as well!
Estimated Cost: Usually not too much more than “normal” groceries — perhaps another $5-$25 per week, or more for eating out at ethnic restaurants.
Tutors and Classes
Are you and your family the only ones involved in your child’s bilingual education?
If you are paying for a tutor as well, that will be an additional expense. Prices can vary widely. It is often cheaper to find an online tutor from a country where the child’s second language is the majority language than to hire a teacher located in your own city.
Estimated Cost: $10-$30 per lesson for an online tutor; $50-$250 per month for a local teacher or classes
Older children can have an immersive experience at a summer camp or other stay-away language camp.
These are great resources, but usually not cheap. Some offer “scholarships” or reduced fees for needy parents, so do some research if money is tight.
Estimated Cost: $200-$500 per week for an overnight camp
Trips and Travel Abroad
One of the best experiences for a bilingual child is to travel to a country where the child’s second language is spoken as a majority language.
However, this can be very expensive. Plan for vacations long-term, and save up as needed to achieve this goal. It’s not something everyone can do very often, but it is worthwhile.
Estimated Cost: Anywhere from $1000 on up to many thousands of dollars, depending on where you’re traveling and how you’re getting there.
Au-Pair or Hosting International Students
It is a great way to get extra language exposure for your child and also help a young person from another country. We don’t have this experience in our family just yet but I am checking the ground for possibilities and cost.
Annika Bourgogne in her book Be Bilingual: Practical Ideas for Multilingual Families researched the prices so my estimates are based on her suggestions.
Estimated Cost: $200-250 per week. Other expenses vary greatly, but consider insurance, placement fee, tuition fee. boarding and other.
Not all costs of bilingual child rearing are direct. Some you pay for with your time, or by spending money on other services that give you more time and freedom to help with your child’s language training.
Parents with flexible schedules may want to take fewer hours each week so that they can be at home, speaking in their child’s minority language.
This is most beneficial when it’s done to give a child exposure to a language he or she won’t encounter otherwise. There’s less reason for the parent who speaks the local majority language to take time off work, since the child will be exposed to that anyway.
Estimated Cost: Anywhere from $50-$500 a week or more in reduced income.
Saturdays used to be my cleaning days. I would get up thinking that I will be done in two hours but it would always stretch into 4+ hours (cleaning my old Victorian house is a full time job!). But then I decided that I would rather spend quality 4 hours with kids then cleaning. So we hired a cleaning lady. I look at this expense as an investment in my children’s education.
Estimated Cost: Anywhere from $100-$1000 per month, depending on the staff and their duties.
Gas and Travel Expenses
If your child has lessons in town, or goes to cultural groups or events, travel to and from those events is an added expense.
It probably won’t be much in any given week, but over time it does become a small added expense, and takes up your time as well.
Estimated Cost:$5-$20 per week.
The Cost of Bilingualism – Worth It!
All these are just some common examples of the ways you end up spending a little more to raise your child bilingual.
It may look like a lot, but the reality is that you would end up with similar expenses for any skill your child acquires, from horseback riding to playing a musical instrument to becoming a competitive chess player.
And with all the benefits that bilingualism brings children — which last through their entire lives — it’s money well spent in the long run. Just be prepared for the expenses, and plan your spending wisely.