When it comes to raising multilingual children, this is the place to start! These are the most important questions to ask yourself and your spouse before you even start your multilingual parenting journey!
By Corey Heller
Perhaps you are just now making the decision to raise your children bilingually or maybe you are already well on your journey as a bilingual family. No matter how long you have been raising your children bilingually it is always good to take a moment to reflect on the following questions and, if possible, sit together as a family to make sure you are all in agreement.
Each step along the path of being a bilingual family usually brings up new answers to some of the following, very important questions:
Ask yourself WHY you are motivated to raise your children bilingually. It is because you or your spouse speaks a second language? Maybe you just feel it would be a wonderful opportunity for you and your children? Ask yourself if your motivations are purely language-based or are also for cultural and personal reasons. Perhaps you believe it will provide your children with a better future?
Make sure you are clear on WHAT your vision or goal is for your bilingual family. Are you interested in making sure that your children can speak, read, write and communicate comfortably in more than one language? Or are you satisfied if your children pick up what they can along the way with out any specific guidance from you? Are you prepared for disappointment if your vision doesn’t pan out along the way and what are ways you might deal with this? To what degree are you willing to be flexible with your intended goal?
Next ask yourself WHO will be speaking which language(s). Will each of you speak a different language with the children? Will you both speak the non-dominant language together with the children? Will you speak more than one language with the children based on a specific plan?
Figuring out WHEN to speak each language can sometimes cause difficulties. It is important to come up with at least the framework for a plan and to try your best to stick to it so that your children won’t become confused. Will you always speak the same language with your children or will you speak a different language when certain people are visiting who don’t understand your language? Make sure to think this through before your child has friends and their parents over who don’t understand the second language.
We need to examine WHERE we spend our days with our children and what language we will speak when we are in each place… the playground, school, playgroup, when visiting family members in their homes, shopping. Will you speak a different language when visiting other countries and cities?
These questions should be discussed and decided together as a family.
Write down your answers so that you can read over them again in the future. Although your decisions aren’t set in stone, you should try to stick to them as much as possible. Children will be more responsive to your bilingual efforts if they are clear on what the “rules” are. If you change the rules on them too often or if they aren’t clear that the rules have changed, they could possibly become frustrated and confused and possibly refuse to participate.
Agreeing together as a family also removes the potential of you and your spouse arguing about these issues in front of your children and making them worry that they are doing something wrong.
Ultimately it comes down to creating a larger framework from which you can then more easily and calmly make the smaller, everyday decisions. Remember that you are allowed to change your decisions. Just make sure to sit together now and then to discuss what things are and are not working for your family and come up with a new plan. Don’t allow yourself to be driven solely by what others say or do. Make the decisions that work best for your family and everyone will thrive.