Bilingual families: every child and every bilingual journey is different

Over two months ago, I experienced something that I wanted to write about but was not quite sure what the conclusion was. A fortnight ago, I experienced it again and felt that renewed urge to write.

On the first occasion, I had met a trilingual family with the same language set up as us, except they had Norwegian when we have English. The parents had gone for the same strategy as we had initially gone for on the birth of our eldest (6): One Person One Language with the Majority Language (ML) for the family communication. The little boy (4) is now trilingual; whereas at the same age my daughter was not (see Our Story).
On the second occasion, my bilingual neighbour was astounded to hear my eldest had resisted the minority languages (ml), since she had not encountered this problem with her 2 children.
In both cases, I felt despair, frustration and sheer rage. It seemed like for the others, the bilingual journey was not such a daily struggle, whereas I have to continually fight off the influence of the ML.

Writing has been a therapy to vent my frustration but also to go beyond the emotional side of things and learn from the conclusions I could draw from these 2 experiences: they are reminders that every child is different and that no 2 bilingual journeys are the same.  Even between siblings you can observe differences in personalities, capacities, development and more. Each child being different means that a language strategy that works for one will not necessarily work for another.
As parents, we find it comforting to discuss with our peers and draw similarities whenever we can. The comfort of “ticking” little boxes in our mind is too tempting. We are prepared by society to fit in pre-determined categories.
Another recent experience that demonstrates this is when a month ago I successively met 2 monolingual girls roughly the same age as my youngest (2) and also the youngest sibling in their families (younger siblings tend to learn faster, taking example on their elder siblings).

The first little girl was 2.5 years old and seemed to speak a lot better than my little one. Obviously, my conscience began quizzing me with concerns. Barely a week later, I met the second little girl who is just 1 month younger than my daughter. This little girl I have never heard speak, even though I regularly bump into her and her parents. Her mum expressed admiration for my daughter’s language skills (in general, not for being trilingual) and told me her daughter did not speak much and she was planning a visit at the doctor’s as she suspected a hearing problem that runs in the family.
These opportunities to meet monolingual children of my daughter’s age only tended to show that no similarities or disparities could be drawn from their language development because each child is different.

Now, this conclusion might not comfort or satisfy one’s curiosity as to their child’s development. Nevertheless, it will protect from the heartache of frustration and worry of seeing other children doing better. Children learn at their own pace and their own way. Give them the time and find the language strategy that works for them.

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