In education in general, there is always a question of how flexible one should be with their educational principles. Bilingual education is no exception. We always require a certain degree of flexibility in life. How much, when it comes to bilingual education, can depend on the following factors:
The importance of flexibility with respect to your overall journey
This bilingual journey can be something we feel very strongly about. So much so, we can lack perspective because we take it so much to heart. However, when assessing the need for flexibility, we need to look at it from the journey’s perspective. Will being flexible prejudice your overall bilingual journey?
In our case, I take our trilingual journey passionately to heart. Some think that this is why I have banned our Majority Language from our home, that the Majority Language is not important to me. However, it is not so; after all, I want my kids to be balanced trilinguals. We excluded the Majority Language simply because having it at home proved to be prejudicial to our eldest’s minority language acquisition; our eldest openly saying that “the Majority Language is easier” than the minority languages and hence not wanting to use them.
The example set
In education, parents lead by example they say. And it is so true. For the best as for the worst. If you slack in your use of the minority language, your child will copy you and use more Majority Language, taking your example as permission not to make the effort to use the minority language. However, the converse can also be true. For instance, last June, I noticed my youngest daughter’s Spanish was lagging behind, as she had a stronger bond with English. I decided to land a hand to my husband by quitting my translating of Spanish books to English. At first, my youngest was very shocked and asked “In Spanish, Mummy? In Spanish?”, and later on tried to protest, to which I stood my ground. Seeing me use Spanish more often, and seeing her dad also starting to read English books in English, she finally accepted to use more Spanish, and now she even has us switch languages to read to her. We set a positive example to her that both languages were good, so she gradually started using more Spanish. Her 2 minority languages are now fairly balanced.
Your child’s personality
Only you, the parent, truly knows your child. If your child is of a stubborn nature to the point of shutting him/herself out, then yes strictness could have the effect of antagonising him/her. It will then be a subtle game of balancing out; working out for yourself the need for flexibility and its limits.
Some other children can also work the opposite way. For instance, we knew that unless our Majority Language was banned from home, our eldest would still use it. Her natural personality is to like comfort zones and needs to be constantly pushed. So based on her personality, flexibility was not the solution for us.
Do not completely exclude flexibility in your bilingual journey, but -bearing in mind these factors- just assess the need for it and its impact on your overall journey. And if it is still unclear to you, then it will be a process of trial and error, as much of the bilingual journey is. 🙂 The difficulty of the journey is the human aspect. We need to work around our children’s continually evolving personality. This can also mean that what once worked might need to evolve alongside your child.
Did I miss out on any other factor? Please share it with us using the Comment section!