No two multilingual families are the same and children learn their languages differently, but some things that parents of bilingual children experience seem to be universal. As a parent bringing up your child to speak more than one language, you…
1. Become more aware of your native language
Because you know that your child will grow up learning to speak both your language and another one or two, you become more conscious about your own native language. If not before, then when your child starts asking you Why? questions about words and their meanings and forms. When the kids learn to write, you are faced with even more questions – unless you are lucky to speak a language which is spelled exactly as it is pronounced (Finnish parents have it so easy, and I do not envy the English!)
2. Improve your own skills in another language
Not only do you learn more about your own language, but you will also improve your skills in any other language your child learns. I would never have learnt any Punjabi had I not picked it up alongside my girls – now I can follow a simple conversation and even make myself understood about everyday topics. I would recommend any parent to try and pick up at least a bit of every language spoken in the family. This way it is easier to communicate when the whole family is together. Also is prevents feelings of being left out of a conversation.
3. Will get corrected by your child
Your child will get better than you at a language you both learn – and you will find yourself being corrected by the very same kid that you have just been teaching the language. Their pronunciation will also be way better than yours. It’s just the way the world goes, and that’s fine.
4. Worry a lot
All of us as parents worry about all sorts of things when we raise our children. Having to do it in more than one language adds one more dimension to the worry spectrum. Will we be able to do it? What if bilingualism isn’t the right choice? How will we do it? What if we confuse our child with the many languages? What if the child will not learn any language properly? What if the child doesn’t want to speak a language? What will others say? What will happen when the child goes to school? – the list of potential worries is endless. Make sure you learn about the myths surrounding bilingual children to get rid of at least some of your worries!
5. Are always on the look-out for language resources
Especially if you are the minority language parent, you are all the time trying to find books, magazines, websites, toys, playdates and other sources of language exposure for your child. Passing on a minority language is no easy task and you need all the help you can get to support your child learn and maintain the language. An old, tattered book which is handed down to you from a relative becomes a treasured item on your child’s bookshelf and gets pride of place next to all other books in your language. Finding a website with cool kids’ games in your language can make your day. And oh, the joy of finding another child of a similar age and with the “right” language for your little one to play with!
6. Become creative
Then there are the moments when you feel that your child is not getting enough exposure to a language and you need to come up with some new ways to increase it. You ask other parents for advice, start play groups, create your own books and toys, make recordings, save money so you can go on more trips, find games… I am constantly in awe of all the great ideas parents have come up with to make sure to keep all their children’s languages alive.
7. Are very proud
A child’s first word is always music to a parents ear (even if it doesn’t happen to be the equivalent to ‘mummy’ or ‘daddy’), but for a parent raising a bilingual child, the moment when the child says something in the other language is arguably even more exciting. It works! This wonderful little brain has managed to make sense of all the language it has been exposed to, and can at a very young age produce something that others can understand – it’s nothing short of a miracle. Your pride rises to another level when you notice how your child communicates with grandparents, relatives and friends – a fantastic achievement for the whole family!
What else have you noticed that you have in common with other parents with bilingual children?