Last Saturday, I got the most hate-filled glance from the lady in front of me in the supermarket queue, as she overheard my youngest daughter and I talk in English. And you should have seen the puzzled looks from her -and the rest of the queue- as my husband and eldest came hurtling to us speaking in Spanish whilst I responded in English! A few years ago, I would have got very embarrassed. Nowadays, some of these situations can give me the giggles as I have completely embraced our trilingual family identity; and I have gone through enough on this bilingual journey to rejoice in these little situations.
However, this lady’s hostile attitude reminded me of the necessity as a bilingual parent to grow a thick skin; which inspired me this post. So congratulations to this “charming” lady who instead of bringing me down, only got the opposite result with me egging on bilingual parents to keep using their minority language! 😛
These little attacks come from all possible angles (close relatives, family, colleagues, doctors, childminder…) and in all different shapes and sizes, from verbal lashes to simple stares. There is no one size fits all encouragement to all these possible circumstances. Nevertheless, here is a list of little things to think of when feeling low and doubting about your choice of bilingual education:
- Family and cultural necessity – Your child is fortunate enough to have 2 (or more!) origins, and they need to be able to communicate with both sides of theirs families, discover their roots and their 2 cultures.
- They WILL talk – If you are the parent of a very young child who does not yet speak, rest assured that once your child will speak the minority language, nobody will dare speak against your choice of bilingual education. With my eldest I have had to stomach criticism even from close relatives for 4 long years; the minute my daughter started speaking to me in the minority language, the scoffs died.
- For every criticism you get, remember all the kind comments you have already had. As a kind bilingual mum once told me after I was brought down by a clumsy comment, we often lose sight of all the nice things we have been told about our bilingual journey.
- Non-native speaker parents can rear their child in the minority language – You might not be a native-speaker parent, fair enough. But unless your school system is particularly efficient in teaching foreign languages, it is still a great opportunity for your child to pick the minority language from you -even with your flaws- than not speaking it at all.
- A lot of these nasty comments hide sheer envy – There is a huge amount of envious people out there. Sometimes, the explanation is as basic as this. Negative reactions can simply be down to the fact that some people cannot stand to see others’ achievements.
- In monolingual countries, there is an incredible amount of ignorance and myths around bilingualism – Be patient, and take on yourself to change attitudes by talking about it. Explain that children do not get confused but that they use “code-switching”, just like adult bilinguals do, and that it is out of choice, not out of confusion. Monolinguals are often very impressed and curious about bilingualism. So be open and do not be embarrassed about it.
- Do not let your pain and doubts show in front of your little one – It is important that they feel that bilingualism is fine and that it is something to rejoice about, not to be ashamed of.
- Accents evolve – When you get an annoying comment about your child’s foreign accent in the minority language, remember that it is better to have an accent than not speaking a second language at all. Bear in mind that accents can evolve with age and location: bilingualism is a lifelong process.
- You know best – Society likes dictating how we should think and live. However, you are the decision-maker, so do not let others influence your choice. It is not because your society is monolingual that you should rear your child so.
- Trust yourself – It seems like most bilingual parents at some point on their bilingual journey come across medical practitioners or teachers asking them to quit speaking the minority language because they are “confusing” the child or hindering his/her learning. If that is the case, hold firmly on to your beliefs. Over half of the world is bilingual or multilingual…. Half of the world population cannot be confused!
The bilingual journey is like travelling on a rough sea, so stay on course and bail out those negative comments from your bilingual ship! 🙂