There was no question we were going to do it.
My husband had to teach his kids his native tongue. It’s a part of him and he needed to pass it on. I dreamed of hearing my kids say English words in cute ways like 'pweaze'. So, we’ve been teaching our kids two languages from day one.
And it’s working.
My six-year-old son can be a miniature translator now and my two-year-old uses both languages in one sentence. Amazing. Adorable.
But sometimes it can be challenging.
Obviously no language is innate. Take any kid from any race, bring them up in any culture and they will learn the language equally quickly. So no particular language is in the genes. But what might be in the genes is the ability to acquire language. —Steven Pinker
I finally had some mom time with a friend over the Thanksgiving holiday. It was wonderful. We ate lots of homemade food, drank, played board games, and watched our toddlers play with each other. It was everything I hoped for.
But I realized something interesting while I watched the toddlers play and talk. My friend’s son would speak, and I was amazed at the words he used. He sounded so adult.
The child is intelligent and not just because I’m a biased Godmother. His mother spends so much quality time with him, reading every night. She is a wonderful teacher.
But it made me question whether my daughter’s speech was delayed. But I realized I am simply not used to hearing a child talk who only speaks one language
Which made me wonder how other people view my children’s’ speech.
“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.” – Flora Lewis
People don’t always understand my daughter and it was the same with my son. I adore and am used to the way her sentences mix Ukrainian and English together, but it is difficult for my English-speaking family. It must sound like gibberish.
Talking to a two-year-old is hard enough with only one language’s worth of vocabulary.
And then there are the people my kids’ meet for the first time who simply think my daughter must be delayed in speech, just like I did for a moment. People now say my son speaks so well as if he didn’t before. What they don’t think about is that maybe they just didn’t use to understand him.
And all this can give parents mixed feelings.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” ‒ Nelson Mandela
I know we’re not supposed to care what people think, but it’s different when it comes to our kids. We know they are the most fantastic creatures the world has seen, and we want others to know it too.
And when they’re bilingual sometimes their brilliance doesn’t immediately shine.
Then with family, you may feel upset when you see your child cannot effectively communicate with grandma or their uncle. You see both party’s frustration and it can result in you giving up on teaching one of the languages.
But don’t stop. It gets easier.
My six-year-old son now speaks with a slight American accent to his father and me in Ukrainian or English. At separate sentences. He’s fluent. Finally.
And watching my husband’s eyes light up brings tears to my eyes. That alone was worth it.
So, don’t stop. Keep teaching your child two languages.
Tips to Successful Bilingual Children
With so many languages in the world , a lot of contact is bound to take place between people of different language groups. And with such language contact, bilingualism will arise. — François Grosjean
Stick to Your Language
If your child is having a difficult time learning one language over the other, pretend you only understand the language you want them to learn. Be stubborn. My mother-in-law only speaks Ukrainian. While she was here my son had no choice but to speak Ukrainian to her. So, he did. You can mimic the same.
If it bothers you when strangers don’t understand your child, let the person know right away that your child is speaking two languages at once. They may be amazed.
For family, you can be around to translate for your child. Let Grandma or Uncle know that the word your child just said was in the other language. With your child try to teach your family member some words. Make it fun.
Read books in both languages. If you are not bilingual, take turns reading. Story structure helps embed the words into your child's mind. It improves their vocabulary and it is fun for the child and you.
If you’re unsure if what you are doing is right for your family, learn the benefits. (Read here https://bilingualkidsrock.com/why-raise-bilingual/ ) A few things a child will gain is better grammar in their first language, better at music, a greater understanding of culture, and will have an easier time learning other languages.
Don’t Give Up
Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow. —Oliver Wendell Holmes
There may be a point when your child decides to ignore a language and only speak one. It happened for a while with my son. It hurts, especially the parent whose language is being ignored. But it does get better over time. It’s just a bump in the road that you need to learn to go around and much like marriage you must stay with it, for better or worse.
It can be challenging raising a bilingual child. Your feelings can go all over the place, but in the end, it is worth it for you and your child. Your child will benefit from your efforts for the rest of their lives.
And what feels better than that?