Raising a Bilingual Child
Raising a Bilingual Child is by Barbara Zurer Pearson Ph.D. Parenting is hard, and can be even harder if you go into it with an agenda. A lot of new parents tell themselves how they’ll always do this and never do that. They have all sorts of good intentions that get thrown out the window once reality strikes.
“I’ll never say ‘No!’ to my kids” was one of mine.
Then of course he tries to climb out the window and I’m right on top of that situation with a huge “No!” to shake the house because I just felt my heart implode and am terrified beyond belief of what will happen when I’m not around to stop him climbing up there. The reality is that no single agenda or goal really fits every situation so you have to be flexible and willing to modify your approach.
Being flexible and adaptable is one thing that being bilingual can do to greatly help children. So this is one agenda that’s definitely worth the effort.
The benefits are numerous. You’ll find them written about everywhere if you look around even just a little bit.
In our case it has opened up my son’s ability to communicate with his grandparents and me in a meaningful way that I can’t even begin to put a value on. Nothing beats that connection. As a student it will make some of the mandatory language classes kids learn here much easier to deal with. As English is a global language that’s reinforced in schools here he’ll already have a leg up. Once he’s older it’ll mean he’ll have more options in work and in his personal life making travel and business much easier to conduct.
A lot of this is speculative of course. After all, who knows what the world is going to be like twenty years from now, right? But there’s literally zero reason not to learn something. It’s like carrying an umbrella. If it rains, you’re ready for it and if not, you’re still ready for it.
So far the only con I’ve experienced is that it takes some effort and coordination on the part of the parents. However my wife and I both feel the benefits FAR outweigh any inconvenience caused by coordinating our language interaction. Frankly it’s been very easy to do and it can be deeply rewarding. That’s our case of course. It could be a lot harder in situations where access to communication outlets and opportunities to engage usefully are limited.
People seem to think that kids are going to get confused about the two languages. But there doesn’t seem to be any data to support that. More often it’s the parents and teachers that are confused when they don’t know what the children are trying to say. This happened to me when my son started watching Russian Youtube videos and none of us speak Russian. I have no idea what he was saying but it sounded really wild.
Before turning three my son was able to distinguish the difference between two languages. I actually stumbled on this by accident. When he said something in Japanese I said: “Mama, ‘okii,’ Dada, ‘big.’ (Actually I don’t remember what the first word was. But it was something like that.) That really made an impact on him. Although I only told him that once he started saying it all the time thereafter. He constructed his own division between the languages. He’s aware we both speak both languages but he also knows that there are two distinct languages that we use. This is reinforced whenever he talks to other Americans like his grandparents and other Japanese people like his friends and family members.
There is a lot of material out there about raising a bilingual child that I have yet to explore. This book and a number of sites and articles I found online were my first dive into the subject. It was very helpful, giving a number of case studies showing how parents adapted in different situations.
For example; two Spanish-speaking parents raising their child in the US to speak both the native language English and their mother tongue Spanish; a Japanese mother and American father raising a child to be bilingual in Japan; an Italian father and French mother raising their kids to speak a totally different language.
All of these situations have their own unique challenges. This may be the frequency of meaningful interaction in the target language as well as availability of learning materials. In any case, the higher the frequency of interaction and the more meaningful that interaction is, the better chance the child has of picking up the language.
These are sites you might find helpful. If you know any good articles that could help other parents, please share.