Should I Give Up Raising My Child Bilingually?

by Corey · 2 comments

When it becomes too difficult… should we give up bilingualism?

L et’s take a moment to talk about problems. The really big ones.  For instance, divorce, family conflicts, relocation,  serious illnesses and death. We all have to deal with some (or all) of these issues at one point or another during our lifetimes.

What should we do when we are confronted with these issues, and our child’s bilingualism ends up the very last item on our agenda?

What can we do when it becomes simply too much of a burden to handle?

Bilingual experts Kendall King and Alison Mackey share the following wisdom and advice (adapted by Alice Lapuerta, Editor of Multilingual Living Magazine) from their book The Bilingual Edge, Collins 2007 p. 249-251:

#1: Take a breather. Dial back the anxiety and remember that language learning is a life-long process. A short break is not a disaster.

#2:  Native speaking spouse is not longer around? Study the language together with your child. If it is suddenly just you and your child, it doesn’t mean that your partner’s language has to be lost forever. Use resources from the internet, check out books at the local library, or make things at home (your own books, board games, cut-out figures). Do whatever little bit you can to maintain the language, but don’t fret over not doing enough.

#3:  Whatever may be happening, try to see change as something positive. Keep your eyes open for new opportunities that might arise from this situation.

#4:  Keep looking for new resources, classes and playgroups! Even if you are in a place that seems to be completely monolingual English, keep looking. Put up signs in grocery stores, at the local library, and at schools. Chances are, there are speakers out there, or other people interested in the same language.

#5:  Stay in touch with your ex’s family. Take the initiative to forge new relationships with in-laws and your child’s grandparents and enlist their help.

#6:  Consider switching methods or languages in the case of relocation. It is OK to change things if you realize that old methods don’t work anymore.

#7:  Be open to new ways of learning languages. The world wide web has so much to offer: check out free language learning classes online,  join forums, interest groups and chat groups, subscribe to ezines and magazines (read issues of Multilingual Living Magazine), or go to your local public library for books and materials.

#8.  Above all, try not to let language become a battleground for other issues in your family!

Confronted with any of the above issues? Feeling overwhelmed?  Send your question to Madalena and she’ll help you get back on track.

Remember that it is ok to stop raising your child bilingually if it is turning into a struggle. Maybe you can find a good language class for your child?  Or maybe you will get interested again after a short breather? The most important is that you are honest about what you are feeling. Until you confront your own feelings, you won’t be able to make healthy choices or changes.

Are you feeling overwhelmed with bilingual parenting? Was your former spouse the one who spoke the other language and now you feel lost? Please share your comments below – there are bound to be others out there who share your feelings and experiences.

Alice Lapuerta, the Editor of Multilingual Living Magazine, is a regular contributor at Multilingual Living. She grew up in a trilingual household of German, Korean and English. She and her husband from Ecuador live in Austria where they are raising their three children trilingually in German, Spanish and English.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anthony Baugh March 6, 2011 at 1:28 pm

I am bringing my daughter up trilingual (English German and Polish. I have found Youtube to be a great portal for finding cartoons/childrens programmes in German and Polish.


2 Katia Novet Saint-Lot December 3, 2011 at 3:44 am

We’re francophone parents (from France and Haiti) but our kids have only attended anglophone schools, and I started them on a long distance french program (CNED). All I can say is that it’s such a commitment, and sometimes so hard to keep the faith. I’m quite intent on both girls not only speaking French (that’s the language their father and I speak to them and with each other, even if they answer in English more and more) but writing it well, too. French is a head ache of a language ( as someone who learned English in a matter of months, I sometimes wish it was the reverse, that they did their schooling in French, and we only had to do a bit of English on the side. It would be much easier.) The older one rebells more and more against the whole thing : having extra work to do is not high on her list. I just keep going. I know she hates the word CNED, but I don’t think she hates French. My hope is that some day, they’ll thank us, the way I thank my parents for bringing us bilingual (French and Spanish). But it’s not easy.


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