Yes, I am stating the obvious – of course, all parents need patience! As a mother or father of a bilingual child, there will however be times when you need an extra helping of this specific virtue. By applying lots of patience, you will succeed in keeping the family languages alive!
Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.
When your family starts on the journey of raising a bilingual child, be prepared to be in it for the long haul. To start with, you may have to wait longer than you thought before your little one utters the first word in your language. Keep on talking – a lot and about anything. Keep on reading those books until you know them all by heart, and beyond. Keep on having fun together in your language. Don’t despair, the words will follow and they will be music to your ears when they do!
Patience is necessary, and one cannot reap immediately where one has sown.
– Søren Kierkegaard
You may even feel that it is taking far too long for your child to start to say anything – and you worry that all those comments about delayed language development for bilingual children are true after all. They are not. Bilingualism does not cause language delay. The age at which children start to speak are very different, independent of whether they learn one or more languages. The learning process of a bilingual child is not identical with that of a monolingual and thus should not be compared, nor tested using criteria for those who speak only one language. On average, by the age of five, bilingual children are at the same level as monolinguals in all their languages – providing, of course, that they have had enough exposure to all of them. If you are concerned and feel that your child does not understand what is said in any language, speak to a specialist with experience of bilingual children. Also check that there are no issues with your child’s hearing.
Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.
– Joyce Meyer
Initially you may have to patiently wait for the first words. Next, you will be waiting for the two-word sentence and then a full long sentence … and then come all the questions! Soon enough your child will be testing your patience by a never-ending array of inquiries about anything and everything. Please do answer them – if you do not know the answer, say so, and then look up the answer together. Especially for a minority language, it is so important that you build up an extensive vocabulary by talking about different topics together.
Our patience will achieve more than our force.
– Edmund Burke
One of the greatest test to your patience is the situation where your child – who may have been happily speaking your language for some years – decides to answer you in the “wrong” language. Now your patience and persistence is needed more than ever. Keep on speaking your language even if you child does not. It is crucially important that you do not change your language at this point. It may feel a bit strange to be speaking in different languages, but ignore those feelings and carry on as normal. The quote above is spot on: you may try to force your child to speak your language, and you may even be successful for a while, but by being patient, increasing the motivation to speak and creating situations where the language is needed you will achieve a much more positive and lasting outcome.