Food for thought – How monolingual society shapes children

-“Why do you speak to her like that?”

This was the question a nearby 9-year old blurted at me over Christmas in a Spanish park, as I was playing in English with my youngest, whilst my eldest cycled on the square with her dad.

The question took me a bit by surprise, but I simply replied that it was “my language”.

We continued playing but the child returned insisting, I replied the same thing to which he said “well I speak SPANISH!”. At that point the dad approached, clearly embarrassed by his son’s insisting on our language use.  He tried to explain to him that I spoke English because that was the way things are; which I am afraid was not an adequate explanation. The child reiterated he spoke Spanish, to which I smiled and acknowledged the fact, but also explaining that he’d soon learn English at school (turns out that he already did, from what I gathered from what the dad said to him).  As his dad tried to reason with him, the child asked “But why does she speak English to her?”, to which the dad nervously replied with a rhetorical question “Well, why do you think?”. The child obviously did not and could not respond to the question himself.

He eventually moved on.  However, it felt very odd to meet a child determined to emphasise the difference in languages and insinuating we must use Spanish. On the other hand, the dad, embarrassed by his son’s persistence, did not seem hostile to us speaking another language. Usually, children repeat the attitude of their parents, but here it did not seem to be the case.

It has been over 6 years since we have began rearing in minority languages. We have been confronted by quite a few hostile stares and nasty comments.  However, these always came from adults, never from children. So this encounter in the park was a bit of a surprise: how a child can already be conditioned at school by monolingual society.

It was a new lesson learnt on this bilingual journey.  It means I will have to prepare my daughters to such encounters with the right explanations, in case they were to face such children (though having two international divisions in our school is a blessing as it makes speaking in foreign languages seem “normal”).  As I mentioned in “Hostility to bilingual education: 10 thoughts to stay on course”, hostility comes in all shapes and sizes, and this is just one more.

5 Comments

  1. Interesting post. I was picking my son up from school before Christmas when a boy from his class overheard me talking to him in Spanish. He said something like, you’re talking different, before you were talking normal. I said I was speaking Spanish and before I was speaking English, which is the language he speaks. He must be 5 or 6 but didn’t seem to know that his language was English which surprised me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m equally surprised that a 5 or 6 old does not know the name of his language! Funny how at toddlerhood children don’t have language bias, but once they start school that’s the end of it…

      Like

  2. I think languages are like ice cream flavors. If you only like one flavor (only can speak one language), it is difficult to imagine why anyone likes the other flavors (speaks other languages). Fortunately I’ve often had people say it was cool that we were speaking Spanish too. But a lot of kids ask why, and I tell them that’s the language we speak at home and when my child and I are together, and that we can speak English too; we’re bilingual. They look pensive when I say that. : ) -Rebecca

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beautiful analogy! Maybe I have to explain better next time I encounter this situation again. Comments always make me cringe and I clam up instead of opening up, even though I want to try and explain so people might learn about bilingualism.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you! I try to think of what I’ll say in calm moments, so I have an answer ready when the inevitable comments arise from folks with less exposure to multiple languages. Most of all I like to convey my enthusiasm : ) -Rebecca

        Liked by 1 person

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