My son is 5 now but when he was 2 it was suspected he had a learning difficulty. He didn’t speak much and the words took a while to get out. We were worried naturally. I speak English to him and my husband French, given those are our native languages.
On starting school in France, the director told me that my son was not learning properly because he spoke English. I can’t tell you how guilty she made me feel. I cried and felt really isolated.
There weren’t many people in the community supporting my situation. However, there was no way I was going to speak French to my son, especially since at the time my French grammar was really bad, not to mention my pronunciation problems.
So I looked up a few organizations and found some support.
I found a wonderful bilingual psychologist specializing in bilingualism French – German, and she wrote a wonderful letter to the school full of research findings proving that bilingualism was not effecting my son’s learning. The director didn’t say anything after reading the expert’s opinion.
We did some tests at a major hospital but given the delays and waiting lists, this process took 2 years. My son was still considered too young to do some of the tests due to his age. So we had to wait a bit longer. It was found that my poor little mite suffered major damage during an ear infection early on that neither the doctors nor we as parents realized. He was given medication for the infection and after that we didn’t notice any significant changes until he started school.
We just thought like lots of people he was quiet and reserved and liked to play on his own. He would turn his head when I called him, so I didn’t think there was a major problem.
He saw a speech therapist in France and when we came to French Guiana, the speech therapist believed that if my son was to progress further in school, he should only speak French. So again I had to justify my decision and provide evidence.
It was funny though, in her office there was a much younger speech therapist that had just graduated and said that now, in the French Education of speech therapists, students can take up bilingualism as a specialty and speech therapy is swaying towards a better understanding and appreciation of bilingualism. Bilingualism was not seen as causing any problems to a child’s speech problems. Indeed she disagreed with her older colleague and after a meeting between the two, or between the old and new schools of thought, my son’s therapist has never said anything more about his bilingualism.
I can proudly say that my boy is excelling in his class and is purely bilingual. He can read a little and is proud of his two cultures. Thanks to Dora the Explorer as well!
Experts are experts its true but there are also different schools of thought. What was taught and believed years ago is not necessarily the case today.
Colin Baker in his excellent book: A Parent and Teacher’s Guide to Bilingualism brings up this issue:
…a doctor or a teacher is not usually trained to answer such questions about bilingualism….(they) tend to reflect in their answers the prejudices and negative beliefs of previous decades. Such advice is contrary to current research and expert opinion about bilingualism.
He adds that it is best to consult specialists in bilingualism (psychologists teachers, speech therapists who have taken a course in bilingualism).
What have been your experiences? How have you dealt with the negative reactions of school administrators and experts to bilingualism?