“How fantastic that your child will learn many languages!” and “I think you should stick to the majority language only!” Those are the two extreme reactions that parents may hear when they say that they want their children to become bilingual.
My hope is that most reactions are in the spirit of the first one, but I know that this is not always the case. Still today, when the benefits of bilingualism are widely known and the old myths about confusion and language delay dispelled, some parents still have to defend their decision.
What if you find yourself having to stand up or your belief that bilingualism is good for your child and the whole family? First of all, arm yourself with facts about bilingualism children, so you can respond to the old myths that might be presented to you.
Probably the most difficult situation is if it is actually your partner who does not agree with you about which languages your children should learn. If this is the case, take some time to discuss the situation – what is the real underlying reason? I recently wrote about the potential feeling of being left out, which could be one reason. There may also be other reasons to do with the perceived status of the language or misconceptions about how a child acquires languages. Whatever the reason is, talk about it until you have identified the real reason and then come to an agreement on how to make the situation work for everyone.
Grandparents can be the most valuable support parents can have when raising children. The relationship is however not always that uncomplicated. Your mum and dad or your mother- and father-in-law may have very strong ideas on how they think their grandchildren should be brought up. Definitive views about the languages are no exception. Again, try to find out the real reason – are they just not used to the idea of a child speaking more than one language? Maybe they think it will be too hard for their “poor” grandchild? It would of course be the “other” language that should be on the losing side – ask them how they would feel if it were their language that you would choose to drop… Remember that it is your decision as parents to make, no one else’s.
What if a nursery professional or a teacher doubts your decision? I hope most schools today support families in their efforts of raising bilingual children, but there are unfortunately exceptions. You will have to politely decline their advice to stick to one language. You may also come across other “experts” who claim that you will be confusing your children, that you are doing them a disfavour y delaying their language development or preventing them from doing well at school – all myths, which have been proven wrong by research.
You may also be discouraged by parents from similar families to yours, whose children have grown up to speak only the majority language. They might tell you not to even try as it is not going to work and that it is better to “go with the flow” and fully embrace the majority language and its culture. I fully agree with integrating into the society wherever you live, but this does not mean that you have to lose your own language or culture. They can and should both exist happily beside each other. Though other families may not have managed to raise their children to become active speakers of their family’s heritage language, this does not mean you can’t! I know you can.