This is probably one of the toughest bit of bilingual education: owning up our education choice in public. Why? Because in strongly monolingual societies such as in Europe or in the USA, we stand out with our minority language (ml). We attract unwanted attention and unsolicited comments. The pressure can be very intense for some parents. It is even worse when your child does not speak yet, as often bystanders think we are mad to raise bilingual or even that we are confusing the poor child.
We have all once felt the embarrassment of using our minority language in public and the temptation to quit using the minority language in public spaces. However, before taking this step, here is a reminder of why you ought to keep speaking the minority language in public:
- Not using the ml outdoors might send your child the wrong subliminal message that the minority language is something embarrassing.
- Not using the ml might send your child the wrong subliminal message that using the minority language with you is optional – and remember the less s/he talks the less the ml skills.
- To set the example to your child – that of using the ml but also that it is nothing to be embarrassed about. Remember that parents lead by example.
- Interaction with society might bring about situations where you will use vocabulary in the minority language you would not otherwise have used had you restricted its use to the home ambit.
- It enables your child to experience positive situations where people met outdoors will value their bilingualism and make positive comments about it – And we all know kids listen more to strangers than to us! 😉
- Foster the opportunity of bumping into minority language speakers – this might not happen often, especially if your minority language is not widely spoken, but if you hide yourself behind the Majority Language (ML) then you will definitely miss out on these rare opportunities that will benefit your child, as they will get to see their ml in action at social level instead of just home.
- The more you use the ml in public, the more indifferent you will grow to stares and comments – When I began using the ml in public, I felt extremely embarrassed. However, almost 3 years later, I have now grown a thick skin and even smile at those staring at me. It might sound impossible to you today, but it can really happen in the long run.
- It teaches your child to assert him/herself in their dual identity.
- It enables you to assert yourself as a bilingual parent – the bilingual journey is often full of doubts. Asserting yourself in public will help you grow stronger and “mature” your self-confidence as a bilingual parent.
- What people think is none of your business – this wonderful phrase was quoted by a very wise bilingual mum I know. And it is so true: it is none of your business, and it will spare you emotionally burdening yourself with uneasiness and self-cooked pressure.
- Every minute of ml exposure counts – Do not underestimate the importance of every minute spoken in ml. We are all facing a ML giant, hence every minute counts to resist its influence.
- Should you be confronted to some hostile comment by some intolerant person, it is also the opportunity for your child to learn how to handle these situations and to discuss about tolerance and diversity – There will always be bigots out there, and as unpleasant as these experiences can be, it is important for your child to be ready to handle them.
- Take pride in your ml – There is no language better than another; take pride in your heritage language. By hiding it away, you are proving bigots rights.
- To show your child that your minority language also belongs in society, and is not just for home.
- Multilingualism will never become the norm if we hide it – Let the public witness bilingualism in action.
- It is the opportunity to raise awareness about bilingualism in those striking a conversation with you on hearing you speak the ml – 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.
So before giving up on speaking your minority language in public, do think twice. I have known the discomfort, but as my skin grew thicker, I have come to assert my bilingual education decision come what may, because it also nobody else’s business what I think. 😉 Yes, I have been confronted to unpleasant situation such as stares like those described in “Hostility to bilingual education: 10 thoughts to stay on course”, but most importantly some beautiful human experiences such as the one I narrated in “A reminder to take pride in rearing bilingual”
So do not undermine your bilingual education efforts and deprive yourself of the nicer human experiences.
Any other good reason I might have missed out? Feel free to list it in the Comment section.