About kids’ acceptance of their bilingual identity

Last week, walking home from school with my 2 girls, a dad and his young son overheard us chatting in English. As they overtook us, the dad shyly but jokingly asked us in basic English if we could teach them both English. Surprised, I felt embarrassed and fell short of a better answer than a smile.

When we bumped into them again a couple of metres down the street, the dad told my eldest how cool it is she speaks English so well. She stunned me by replying to him that in fact she speaks 3 languages as she also knows Spanish. The dad was astounded, turned around and sought confirmation from me. I explained to him our situation, he kindly congratulated us and then each went our own way.

Though this does not happen often, I always enjoy these comments and marks of admiration made directly to my daughter. She gets to hear what I have told her over and over again from the mouth of another person than her old biased mother. You see, when she was young, my eldest did not like speaking English and Spanish because -in her own words- French was easier (see Our Story). We ended up imposing the exclusive use of the minority languages (ml) at home when she was 4, explaining to her she has to make the effort, that it is important she learns her languages and that one day she would understand why we insist on it.

Today, with my eldest aged 7, I think this day might finally be dawning. Last week, observing her at a slight distance, giving the precision she also speaks Spanish, I noticed a touch of pride in her attitude. This little ml resistant girl seems to finally be proud of what she has achieved so far.

A couple of days after this encounter, the opportunity to discuss it came up over lunch.  I asked her if I was right to think she had felt proud to say she spoke 3 languages, and she smiled back that I was right.  I used the occasion to praise her and make her realise all that she had achieved thanks to our ml@home house rule and how thanks to her making the effort and setting the example, her little sister had easily picked up the habit to use the minority languages too.  I could tell she felt quite emotional at the praises made, her sparkly eyes almost welling up with emotions as she smiled. She commented that her sister reminds her of vocabulary she forgets, like the other night when she pointed to a picture and her sister named the item for her. I explained to her that in fact, without realising they were both learning from one another as they played together.  She nodded and seemed rather pleased with all that was said.

Do not get me wrong, I do not want to raise an arrogant little brat who shows off her language skills to the world.  But accepting her language skills is part of the construction of her trilingual identity. Acceptance does not come overnight in all bilingual kids.  It will depend on their personality, on their bond with the ml, on whether they have been ml resistant at some point,… So witnessing this kind of little pride is -so long as it does not shift into arrogance- a nice gauge to measure the popularity of being a bilingual kid as the child grows. In my daughter’s case, it might measure a shift in attitude, which lets me hope that in the long-run, her strong bias for the Majority Language might wear a little to the benefit of her mls.

What is your experience of your child accepting their bilingual identity?  Please share it using the Comment section!

7 Comments

  1. What great reinforcement for your daughter, a compliment from a stranger. I bet she’ll use her languages to connect people. When we are in a Spanish-speaking restaurant, our child is proud to be able to communicate in Spanish with the staff. They love to be complimented on their accent and vocabulary. : ) Rebecca

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congrats on your proud moment! My older son once told me when he was younger that it was very hard but he never really questioned it (luckily) because we both (me and my husband) try to explain why we are a bilingual family and try to also reach out to other bilingual children so that they know that this is a good thing and the others do it too. I think kids reject the idea only when they do not have the confidence so it’s key for us as parents that we help build it.
    My kids are particularly proud when we are in ml country and people always compliment how unexpectedly wonderful it was that they spoke the language.

    Liked by 1 person

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