Will My Multilingual Child Develop Multiple Identities?

by Corey · 1 comment

The ability to be both bilingual and bicultural is often the true test of fluency.  A major concern for parents is whether their bilingual child will develop a double identity alongside intellectual capacities in two languages.  Pressure to conform culturally is subtle and can come from a country or from a parent… Living with two or three cultures can even cause a conflict of emotions or anomie, which is a breakdown or absence of social norms and values that an individual associates with a certain situation. Anomie can be best described as having feelings of disorientation, social anxiety and isolation, and is commonly seen in bicultural adolescents or young adults.  It does not usually appear until the bilingual has reached an almost ‘native speaker’ level.

This stage of anomie can be temporary but often causes a reappraisal of the languages.  The bilingual may consciously or unconsciously drop one language if he or she feels they can never live up to the standards expected.  He or she may wish they had ‘normal’ parents and want to associate only with one culture.

An article about “The Trials and Tribulations of a Bilingual Teenager” by a 20-year-old Finnish-English bilingual Tommi, highlighted some of the difficulties of simultaneously belonging in two cultures (The Bilingual Family Newsletter, 1997, Vol. 14, No.2).

Describing himself as ‘bi-national’ Tommi was brought up with a strong attachment to both cultures.  As a teenager in England he missed Finland… [and] between ages 16 and 19 he felt growing irritation with all things English and was  annoyed to have to live in such a ‘horrible country’.  This dilemma was resolved by travelling alone for a few months, seeing that all countries have their good and bad sides.  Tommi concludes by saying: “I will always be a foreigner wherever I am, but I will also be at home in two countries, a valued member of the community with two different outlooks.

The above exceprt if from Language Strategies for Bilingual Families by Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert, pp 66-67.  Published by Multilingual Matters, 2004.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 sarmiento August 11, 2015 at 7:23 pm

Does bilingual language development take longer than monolingual development? Are bilingual children brighter or does acquiring two languages negatively affect the child’s cognitive development in some way? How much exposure to each language is necessary for a child to become bilingual?


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: