As parents raising bilingual children we know how important it is to give our kids as varied an exposure to their languages as possible. This becomes even more crucial if we are passing on a minority language. Building a network of people who can support us in this task is important and a good and natural place to start are the grandparents.
Heritage and culture
Culture and language go hand in hand – and grandparents are in an ideal position to pass on the family culture. By speaking to their grandchildren about the traditions and customs they are not only bringing in essential words and phrases but are helping your children understand their heritage and background. Encourage your children to ask about traditions, what has changed, how they did things in their youth – you will probably learn something new yourself as well.
A child can never be read to too often! Due to the busy schedule of many parents, it might be a struggle to get enough reading time with your kids. This is where grandparents can be of a great help – if they live close, maybe they can visit the library with the kids and choose the books they are interested in. If they live far away, arrange story time online with granny or grandpa.
Letters and messaging
Practice that writing and reading by staying in contact the old-fashioned way: write letters and cards! Grandparents are of a generation more used to this form of communication so they will be happy to participate. It really does not take that long and we all know what a joy it is to receive a note or a card. Tip: put stamps on your shopping list so you are all prepared. That said, most grandparents nowadays are used to phones and computers, so encourage your kids to stay in touch and help set up the communication channels by making sure that both your parents and your children have the email-addresses, phone numbers etc. for each other.
I had a very close relationship to my mother when growing up, however, I remember how it was sometimes easier to speak to one of my grandmothers (unfortunately, I never got to meet any of my grandfathers). I wish that all children would have a close relationship to someone, in addition to their parents, who they can trust and share their feelings with – another reason why the family languages are so important. Grandparents may just have that extra bit of time patience when a small person needs someone to talk to. They will stop and listen instead of saying “Tell me later”.
When grandparents are far away
Bilingual children often grow up with at least one half of the extended family living far away, sometime both sets of grandparents live in a different country. You can find tips on how to stay in touch in this article: Bilingual children and long-distance family relationships.
If there are no grandparents
Of course, due to family or other circumstances not all children have the luxury of a close or even any relationship with their grandparents. If this is the case in your family, maybe you can find an older person in your community who could step in and be that older generation connection?
“A child needs a grandparent, anybody’s grandparent, to grow a little more securely into an unfamiliar world.” – Charles and Ann Morse
G is for Grandparents is my chosen topic for the A-Z of Raising Multilingual Children organised by The Piri-Piri Lexicon. Don’t forget to check out all the other inspiring posts from my fellow bloggers!