Raising a bilingual child is a very long and challenging process. It is a journey that will last until your child enters adulthood and make the decision to pursue -or not- their bilingual journey by themselves.
There will be times when you feel low and lonely, not understood and lacking support from your environment.
Here are suggestions as to what you can do to get this support. Whatever you choose, do not shut yourself out, it will only make the journey more burdensome.
- Get support from your family – Monolingual relatives cannot always appreciate our concerns as bilingual parents. It might be stating the obvious but if you have an open-hearted conversation with them, they are certainly more likely to understand and support you than you keeping quiet. And when they do, do not hesitate in requesting their support, telling them exactly how they can help. For instance, I regularly remind my relatives that I would rather they offered minority language (ml) books and gifts with no Majority Language (ML) text, so as to support our total ban on ML in our home. On several occasions, they have surprised me with doing so and more, even though they do not speak our 2 ml! Communication is a key to open the door to support. Now, not all your relatives might stand in the support area -I have some of them too, but others will be and those who are not might change their mind as they see your children grow and become bilingual.
- Get support from ml friends in the ML country – here again, open-up. Some bilingual parents might not face the same challenges on their journey, but they can understand and relate to your experience. They might also provide you with support if you tell them what you need. When my Spanish-speaking friends and I message each other to arrange meeting up, I ask them to exclusively address my daughters in Spanish. Just telling them how important it is to me does the trick.
- Debunk the myths – Many monolinguals mistakenly believe the common myths about bilingualism, such as it creating confusion and speak delay in children. Read up on the topic and take it on you to raise awareness about how these myths have not been demonstrated by medical studies, on the contrary. Very often, people are not supportive of bilingual education through misinformation. By raising awareness and being open, you might be able to change people’s attitude (though obviously not all) and make them more supportive.
- Local ml associations – should you be lucky enough to have one close at hand, attend the events. As parents we lead busy lives, yet make the time investment as it will enable you to build an ml network. People who might have gone through the same challenges as you and/or who might be able to provide technical support such as knowing all the good local ml addresses or at your request run an errand on their ml trip and bring back ml resources for your child. Through the association’s events, your child will also be more exposed to ml speakers and you to new friendships. You might even be able to find an ml teenager to babysit your child in ml.
- Visiting the Bilingual Zoo – now that is my absolute favourite when it comes to getting support. The Bilingual Zoo is the spin-off forum of the Bilingual Monkey blog. It is an incredible 800+ strong community of bilingual parents who can totally relate to your challenges and give you the tips and moral support you need. With the kind supervision of blogger, author and bilingual dad Adam Beck, who also regularly steps in to bring his advice and support. If you have not registered yet, this is the place to be and get involved! The more active the community, the stronger it is. You can share your concerns and frustrations, but also your experience and successes, and help others in return. You might lose sight of it when you feel low, but you are doing some things right that other bilingual parents don’t…and they might need your support too! This experience definitely builds your confidence as bilingual parent.
- Free online meetings about multilingualism– another favourite of mine is Ute Limacher-Riebold’s free online meetings about multilingualism. It is a monthly videoconference with Ute and other bilingual parents on a given topic. “Meeting” other bilingual parents definitely makes you feel less lonely and you learn so much from others.
- Facebook groups – There are quite a few of them around ( “Non-native Speakers Raising Bilingual/Multilingual Children”, “Raising Bilingual Kids and Little Global Citizens” from the Bilingual Kid Spot blog) though I personally find they tend to go too fast to keep up and that the Facebook interface is not ideal for this kind of community, they tend to provide a lot of support too. Try one out and make your own opinion!
What do you do to get support on your bilingual journey? Please share your ideas in the comments section to help other parents.