These are the wise words of the lovely María from Bilingual Being Non Native who commented this to me during a chat earlier this year, she also shared them on her first podcast (10min35). They struck me as speaking the truth.
Why should making the gift of another language to your child be the privilege of natives? Here are my 5 reflections on the topic:
- If you are eager to get on board this incredible bilingual adventure, work on your own minority language (ml) and at least give your child a headstart in life, why not? So long as it is done with common sense (language strategy in keeping with your ml level), it is always better than nothing. It does not have to be perfect. Mistakes can always be corrected later on in life; nothing is irreversible. Giving the love of languages to your child will empower them for life with advanced language learning skills.
- Being a native is not a guarantee that the person has an extensive ml knowledge. Some people are not interested in language learning and literacy. Conversely, you can have very cultivated non-natives with a passion for language learning and literacy who can have an ml level equivalent to that of the native I just described.
- Committed non-natives will usually make the extra effort to strengthen their ml – They are conscious of their “weaker” position compared with a native; they often are willing to go the extra mile to improve their ml. A native will not usually question their mother-tongue because it comes to them so naturally.
- The key is love, not the native language – Some natives sometimes hate the burden of passing on their heritage language so much that they give up (I have talked to one of them), others are simply uninterested in passing on their heritage. On the other hand, some non-natives can be passionate about it and successfully pass on another language to their child.
- Expressing one’s feelings in another language is not an issue – as you might have already read my thoughts on this in this previous post.
So before judging non-native parents, let’s give some serious thoughts about them raising their children bilingual: why shouldn’t they when they are able and willing to commit? They should earn respect from the community, not jealousy at them entering what is perceived as an elite.
As my lovely sidekick Raquel at SpanglishEasy once told me: you teach your child to kick a football yet you ain’t a professional football player. So why should you be a native to pass on another language?