Since I wrote my first post about how I’m raising my bilingual children, I got so many questions that it made me realize how important it is and how difficult it can be.
First question that I was asked frequently was how do I stick to speaking only one language to my kids?
I must admit, that at the very begging, when my first born was a wee baby, it did sound weird to speak aloud in Polish to her. Especially while we where surrounded by people who didn’t understand a word I was saying and obviously she couldn’t speak or really understand me neither. So yes, I did force myself a bit during these first couple of months of her life. But as soon as I had an impression that she understood me, it felt as if we were both speaking Polish, and now it’s the only natural way for us to communicate.
And that led to a frequently raised concern: do people around us feel left out when I’m speaking the language that they don’t understand?
In all honesty I never felt that someone was feeling bad or left behind. I explained to all of the family members and close friends how important it’s for us to raise bilingual kids. Some of them are actually trying hard to learn a couple of Polish words by now! And if we’re out and people hear us, they usually get curious, but never did it happen to us that someone got upset. Also, if we’re on a play date with other kids, I sometimes speak to everyone in French or English before I’ll speak to my kids in Polish.
And how about my husband? Does he understand us? If not, doesn’t he feel left behind?
At first he didn’t understand nothing. Polish was not more than a funny sound to his ears. And now, after almost four years, he understands most of what we say. Because with babies and kids, you repeat yourself all the time! Especially at the beginning, when you say every word a billion times! So at first it was a bit hard for him, but now even though we have two languages around the kitchen table, we all understand each other very well.
And how about the way our kids see our relationship? We speak different languages is that ok?
Children don’t know what a general norm is, for them what’s happening at home is the norm. So for my kids it’s just perfectly normal that mommy speaks Polish, daddy French and that sometimes they even speak English to each other. That’s just plain and boring normal to them.Children don't know what a general norm is, for them what's happening at home is the norm. Click To Tweet
Many of you asked me what to do, if until now you were switching languages, and now your toddler/ preschooler/ teen refuses to speak in your language?
The only advice I can give you is: continue speaking to them in your language. And if they ask you for something, respond only if the request is expressed in your language.
Yes, they might get upset/ angry/ shocked/ furious (depending on the character of your sweet child). But only for a while. Because your kids want to be in contact with you, and they need your love and your attention. So the good news is that they’ll do basically anything to get it.
And no, I don’t suggest you to ignore them in the middle of the night when they’re crying, or when they’re really unhappy, scared or sick and they really need you. But if they want you to give them a drink, read to them or they need 20$ for the ticket to the movies, then I think you should hold your ground.
But the good news is that you can make it fun!
With toddlers and preschoolers start by playing with them and make them believe it’s more fun with mommy ( daddy ) when you speak your secret language ( it sounds way more fun then a second language).
1. Role playing. Just take out some toys and start role playing in your language. ( How are you teddy bear, do you want some chocolate? And you little Muppet, will you play with us?) Yes, get really silly.
2. Sing! Star singing while dressing them, feeding and washing. Sing simple songs and encourage them to join in.
3. Pretend it’s a magic spell.
Explain that a fairy ( or a witch ) have put a magical spell on you and now you can speak only your language to them. But the same spell makes you give them a kiss/ sticker/ candy/10 cents (whatever you think is appropriate and will motivate your kid) every time they respond to you in your language.
With older kids you can install a jar for cents, and then every time they manage to formulate a request in your language, you put a cent in, or every time they try hard during dinner they get 25 cents ( I know, it’s technically a bribe, but that’s for a good cause).Make your kids believe that it's more fun when you speak your secret language #bilingualism Click To Tweet
With preteens and teens you can try involving them in the decision.
1. Explain the positives of bilingualism.Talk about the future work opportunities, travel experiences and facility in making new and exiting friends.
2. Ask them what they think could be done in your household. Get them brainstorming with you and maybe they have the solutions that you didn’t think about.
3. Propose 3 dinners a week when you talk in your language. Add special perks for motivation.Try involving more people in the language immersion. Teens want to have fun and connect with other teens so sending them for a language camp could be also a good solution. Or plan a fun vacation together or a student exchange where they could practice your language.
And some of you asked me if it’s even worth it.
Absolutely! First, because by teaching your child the language of your parents and grandparents you’re giving them the capacity to communicate with your family and a way to understand the culture that shaped you.
Second, these researches here and here show that bilingual kids are more emphatic, creative and they have more ease in learning third and more languages.
And of course, by teaching your child more than one language, you give them more opportunities for the future: work and travel is easier when you speak more than one language!
I hope that I managed to answer all of your questions, but if there is anything else that you’d like to know about raising bilingual children, just let me know!