Dear parents of bilingual children – time to cut some slack!

by | Oct 7, 2015 | Being the parent in a multilingual family, Family life, Non-native language, Practical advice | 5 comments

Dear parents of bilingual children – time to cut some slack!Due to the nature of my work, I spend a lot of time on-line: researching, reading blogs and comments, finding articles to feature in my newsletter and looking for experts and parents to share their stories. Inevitably, I spend quite a lot of my on-line time on social media, mainly on Facebook, and in different forums, where parents speak about their experiences passing on more than one language to their children. Today I want to highlight something that I find rather concerning among the bilingual-child-raising community – it is the tendency to:
a) beat yourself up and feeling guilty about not doing a good job; and/or
b) being intolerant and sometimes condescending or even condemning towards other parents who have a different view about how to bring up a bilingual child.

My dear friends, please, cut yourself and other parents some slack!

Go easy on yourself

– if you have a chosen family language strategy

Let’s say that you have decided to follow the OPOL approach and then you notice that you are unable to stay consistent in your language use. First of all, the odd majority language word or phrase won’t do your child’s language learning any harm. If you are the only one speaking a language to your child and feel guilty that you are “failing your responsibility to pass on a heritage language” when you are not consistent, please stop. You are doing as well as you can in the circumstances and with the means that you have available to you.
If you think that a bit of support could be useful, find a book or blog to read or turn to other (positively-minded) parents of bilingual children for ideas and encouragement. If you look for help from strangers in a forum or a group, put on a pair of glasses equipped with filters for unhelpful and criticizing comments and be selective about the advice you take to heart.

– if you are NOT following a strategy

You have not gone for a specific family language strategy and read about how important it is to have a plan. Then you start to worry that it is too late. First of all, it is never too late to put some structure into how you use the languages in your family – if this is what you want, that is. My mission is to help as many parents as possible to bring up bilingual children, so if someone comes to me for advice, I prefer to put together a plan which makes it easier for the parents to reach their goal. However, millions of children (including me) have grown up to become bilingual without a parental plan.

Respect the choices of other parents

– who do it differently

Just because OPOL is the right approach in your family and you might already have adult bilingual children, does not mean this approach is the only right one for everyone. Parents who do not choose mL@H although they could, will have their very specific reasons for doing so. Every family is different.

– who are more/less strict/consistent than you with regards to the language they speak with their children

It is true that if you are a minority language parent, your child will need as much exposure to your language as possible, but please do not judge a parent who is struggling or criticize those who have made it a habit to always speak their language and stick to their principles.

– who want to pass on a non-native language

You do not have to be a native speaker to teach a child a language. It might not be what you would choose to do, but it can be done. It is not an easy task and requires a lot of commitment, so instead of being judgemental, let it go.

– who choose to not pass on a family language

For many of us the main reason for making sure that the family languages are passed on to our children is that we want our kids to be able to communicate with the extended family. However, other families have different priorities and there might even be a strong reason why some parents would prefer to distance themselves from their past. We can never know what other people have experienced unless we know them well.

– who let their children grow up without paying much attention to the language exposure

Many children grow up to speak two, three or even more languages without their parents focusing on who speaks what language when and for how long. It all depends on the family circumstances and attitudes, community languages and many other factors. In families across the world, speaking several languages is just a part of everyday life. The language spoken at any point is picked depending on topic, who is present or whichever other circumstance. After all, it is just communication. Please don’t tell these families to change their life style!

If you think your own experience could be helpful to others

There is one simple, golden rule: if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all! When offering advice, keep in mind that you do not know the whole story. Instead of saying “This is what you should do …” say “This is what worked in our family…” Wish the parent well and end with something encouraging. In many cases, what we really need when we reach out for support, is for someone to say, “You are okay, you are doing well, keep it up!”

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  1. Chris Drew

    Many thanks for this, as always, Rita.

    It is very hard, if not impossible, to be a perfect parent. I’ve yet to meet one.

    So why should being a parent in a multilingual environment be any different? Or any easier? If anything, it should be (and in my experience is) harder than an ‘ordinary’ parenting environment.

    So go easy on yourself multilingual parents – you’re doing something most ‘ordinary’ parents wouldn’t dream of trying to do (and are secretly jealous of you doing).

    It isn’t easy – whichever method you use. But as a parent of two bilingual children, it’s well worth the extra effort!

    • Rita

      Absolutely agree, and in the end, what is perfect anyway? I don’t think there can be a definition of a ‘perfect parent’.
      Thank you for your comment, Chris!

  2. Olena

    There is no way to be a perfect parent, but there are hundreds of ways to be a good one. So we should not beat ourselves for being not perfect and judge other parents if they are different. Thank you for your thoughts, Rita.

    • Rita

      Thank you for stopping by, Olena! I like your thoughts of there being hundreds of ways to be a good parent 🙂

  3. Laura at Mommy Maleta

    Good insights!! There will never be a perfect system…and parents should definitely cut themselves some slack.



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