Food for thought: The Bilingual Iceberg

Whilst reading about other bilingual parents’ experience at, a very wise bilingual mum shared a very interesting illustration by Andrea Alford (source: Spanish Mama).

It shows how much a bilingual child could produce effortlessly (tip), what s/he understands (base) and how the waterline is what s/he is yet to be understood but which s/he will eventually do and it will freeze and come to add to the base and push the tip upwards.

This illustration is a wonderfully graphic image of the bilingual development process that bilingual parents should be aware of.  The bilingual journey is so long and bumpy, we must bear this process in mind to keep strong and at it in times of hurdles. This is even more true when you have a young child who barely talks yet. You will often be assailed with doubts as to the use of you using the minority language with your child, for you might witness little or no minority language back.  Keep at it, no matter what.

One day, you little one will answer back in the minority language, and as they grow older and you rephrase their mistakes, one day they will finally phrase what they are saying correctly.  To give you an example, I have long battled with my eldest with the way she phrases her questions in English. Last Wednesday, in the middle of a movie at our local cinema, she whispered the perfect question to my ear… I  turned to face her in disbelief! There still is a long way to go, but everyday a little more of the waterline freezes to strengthen her trilingual base.

From my personal experience, Alford’s iceberg is the true reflection of the bilingual development process.  Keep it in mind, be patient and persevere. 🙂

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