Bilingual anyone?

We just had our end of year parent teacher conferences and I came home with quite a bit of food for thought about how to raise my bilingual children. You see, I had just assumed that by exposing the children to both French and English (their father speaks to them in French, and I in English) that they would pick up the languages effortlessly and I would not need to accomodate bilingualism, per se, in our day – to – day life.

Now I know that was naive of me.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that being raised bilingually, even bi-culturally,¬†is one of the best gifts that we are giving our children; they are learning an important skill that will stand them in good stead the rest of their lives, they are experiencing ‘global’ on a first hand basis and they are learning how to communicate.

However I was not prepared for such things as my daughter being frustrated by a lack of understanding or of vocabulary in one language or the other, or the feeling of being ‘different’ because they speak a different language or because their mother ‘garbles’ at them when she drops them off at shcool.

So here are some thoughts about how you can help your bilingual children:

  • speak openly with your children about what it means to be bilingual, the advantages, but also the negative feelings that can go along with the experience – ¬†feeling isolated, feeling different, not understanding, etc
  • find bilingual playgroups or friends for your children so they have at least one environment where they are ‘normal’
  • don’t assume that your child understands everythign in both languages. Discreetly test their knowledge and then help them (again, discreetly) where you see they may be falling downbehind in one language or the other
  • speak with any caretakers or teachers about how you will tackle miscomprehension and frustration that may arise

As with any other aspect of raising children, empathy and perceptiveness are key.

Then enjoy as your children rattle on in Spanish or Chinese or Russian, correct your accent (” it’s [uuuu] mama” ) or pat you gently on the shoulder and ask you to “speak in English, Mama” when you try reading the French book at bedtime.