Language and culture - integral parts of a bilingual child's identity

“… language is paramount for children to become socialized and develop a sense of belonging within cultural settings”
This is a quote from an article from a Japanese magazine about the importance of passing on the culture of a language alongside the language itself. You can read the whole article here. I find the article excellent – apart from the headline, which in my mind is too negative. Maybe the writer wants to grab the reader’s attention with a slightly provocative title.

The article describes the close connection between identity, culture and language. It emphasises how vital it is that children who grow up with more than one language are supported in not only learning the languages but also understanding the cultures of their languages. While the article raises the issue specifically with regards to English speaking children in Japan, the principles are the same for any families bringing up bilingual and multicultural children.

The article gives an example of the difficult situation when children refuse to speak a language they have been previously happy to speak – a heart-breaking situation for the minority language parent whose language usually is the one to get dropped. I have written a few posts on how to tackle this kind of situation as most multilingual families encounter them at some point. It is important to be prepared for that this may happen in your family. The best way to prepare is to make sure that your children are still motivated to speak your language when they grow up and their interests change. We also have to remember, that children can and should not be forced to speak a certain language – a gentle coercion is fine, but the main drive has to come from the children’s want to speak it.

For children to want to speak a language they need to feel confident about it. The more they know of the language AND the culture it represents, the more at ease they will be at using the language in their everyday lives and less likely to reject it. By introducing the children to the culture of the language parents can positively support their children in finding their own unique multicultural identity.

Note that ‘culture’ is not to be interpreted only as arts, literature, theatre, music, food and the like. Though these are central to a culture it is even more important to also include aspects of the culture that the children wholeheartedly enjoy, for example comics, sports, celebrities, fashion, TV programmes, movies, games and so on, the list includes anything that could spark the children’s interest.

What are your experiences with regards to raising a multilingual/multicultural child?

May the peace and power be with you.


© Rita Rosenback 2013