This is the second post in a 3-part series on what not to do when raising a bilingual child. You will notice that these behaviours do not only apply to passing on your language to your son but are generally common sense when you are bringing him up. You will also notice that they are things that most of us already know we shouldn’t do, but occasionally do anyway – so it’s good to get a reminder.
Never ask him to “perform”
No matter how proud you are about what languages your son knows – never ask him to say something in front of others just to prove he can. I would even recommend diffusing situations where another adult asks your little boy to say something to show he knows a language – the result is just that he refuses to speak at all. If you are bilingual yourself, you know how annoying it is when someone asks you to “say something”. Children learning languages can be very sensitive about their skills and afraid of making mistakes. If in addition they are also of a shy nature, asking them to utter something in a particular language just for the sake of it is not the right thing to do.
Never make fun of how he speaks
Have fun when passing your language on to your son, but never ever ridicule his language use. Children do sometimes come up with the most hilarious words and phrases when they learn a language, but don’t make a big deal of it. Don’t even make a funny comment about it to others when he’s not present – it would be very hurtful if he came to know about it. What I would recommend that you do though, is to note these words and phrases in a journal that you can give to him later on. When he is older and knows the language better, he will be able to appreciate the funny side of it.
Don’t expect perfection
Of course we all dream that our children will grow up and acquire a perfect command of whatever language we pass on. This is however rarely the case in real life. The fluency will vary greatly – even between siblings. If at any point you worry about your son not speaking as fluently as you would like to, think about what is important. Can he communicate with his grandparents and relatives? Is he happy to use the language in his everyday life? If he does, a few grammar errors here and there, some word pronounced slightly differently or an accent isn’t really anything to worry about.
May the peace and power be with you.
© Rita Rosenback 2013