By Corey Heller
You can raise your children bilingually.
Let me repeat…
You can raise your children bilingually.
I know this comes as a surprise to many people, especially those who feel they couldn’t master another language if their life depended upon it, let alone share the language with their children. But not only can you learn another language well enough, you can bring your children into your bilingual family fold as well! And if you already know a language fairly well, then what are you waiting for?
I’m not saying that your children will necessarily be able to attend universities in France or China or Senegal. Your child may not wake up in the morning chatting away in Urdu or Swahili. But what I am saying is that you can include language as an integral part of raising your child. You can raise your child bilingually. Don’t worry about the final outcome right now!
Misconceptions Be Gone!
Here is a list of some common misconceptions that often hold us back:
1. The “All or Nothing” belief.
Who said that if you are raising your child bilingually that you have to speak a second language every moment of every day? Don’t fall into that belief trap. You can raise your child bilingually with as much language exposure as you want. Let yourself be empowered by this! In fact, studies show that even a small but consistent amount of language exposure has benefits (which is my #1 reason for why we should introduce languages to our children at an early age: We’ll have even more time to expose them to it!).
2. The fluency belief.
Yes, I know that belief – the one where I feel that my language fluency just isn’t good enough to speak it with my children. You are thinking, “How can I expose my children to such rusty Tagalog?” or “I haven’t spoken Arabic in years!” My answer to this is: no problem! So your accent isn’t very good and you can’t remember much vocabulary? Then work on improving this. In fact, you just might find that reviving your language can be one of the most exciting things you can do to revive you! Make this exciting and fun and a worthy challenge! Use it to connect with your children!
3. People are going to laugh at me.
Yep, they might. They might even criticize you. They might even put down your language abilities. But what does that have to do with you and your children and the gift of bilingualism which you have to share? If you are making language fun and exciting for yourself and your children, then your doubting friends, family, acquaintances and passers-by on the street can learn a lot from you. Just have a rote answer ready to respond to these naysayers and make sure to say it with that confidence and joy which I know you have in you. Give it some time and before you know it, others will be following your lead!
4. I can’t do this forever.
Maybe, maybe not. No one is saying that you have to do this forever. Take it one day, one week, one month, one year at a time. That is what my husband and I do with bilingual homeschooling (and we are now in our fourth year). Just take it slow and easy and with a patient mind. Find the motivation you need by coming up with a general plan. Set some realistic goals: three nights a week I will read my child a bedtime story in Indonesian, or every Tuesday and Thursday I will spend from 9:00 in the morning to noon speaking Japanese with my children. Do this for a few months and then add or subtract as best fits your needs. I’ll bet you will be adding and not subtracting to your plan!
Does the word “raising” stress you out?
When people ask if you are “raising your child bilingually” do you hesitate and become tongue-tied? Is that term simply too big and heavy for you to take on? Then use whatever term you want to use: “teaching your children another language,” “introducing your children to languages,” etc.
But before you start to downplay that you are “raising your children bilingually,” consider what, exactly, the term “raising” means…
We often say that we are “raising our children to be kind individuals” but that doesn’t mean we spend every waking moment pounding that concept into their little heads. We also say that we are “raising our children to be active and healthy” because we feed them well and make sure they get fresh air and physical movement every day. But we do also let them sit on the sofa, eating snacks and vegging-out in front of a DVD, more than we’d like to admit.
Raising our children includes many different components, all of which come together to form a unique and lovely tapestry of our individual lives. Making bilingualism part of this living and raising and growing is an active, evolving process.
You have permission to answer questions from others about bilingual parenting with confidence and joy (and then read #1 above again, just as an added boost). I’m not saying that you should lie to others and tell them that you only speak your second language 24/7. Be honest and envelop others into the fold of your wonderful bilingual parenting experience.
This won’t always be easy but until you jump in and give it a try you will never know what joy is awaiting you! Language can transform your life in many positive ways.
Are you ready? Go for it today!
What are your experiences in raising your child bilingually? Are you still hesitating? Why? Or if you have already started, what language do you speak with your children? What is your language plan? How often do you speak this language with your children?