Raising A Bilingual Child
What do you do when you want to raise a bilingual child but only one of you speaks the foreign language? I'm in that situation. My native language is not English, though I speak English far better than my native language, since I have spent almost 40 years in America at this point and I have never learned the other language in any capacity other than hearing it and speaking it conversationally. While I do speak my native language fluently, I was never educated in it; that is, both my parents spoke to my brother and me in that language, and we spent our summers in our home country, speaking only in our native tongue. But, here we are. I have a child with a husband who speaks only English, though he is wonderfully supportive of my desire to raise our daughter to speak both languages as much as possible. But, how do I do that when he does not speak the language and she is surrounded by people who do not speak the language? The responsibility falls squarely on me, and that is a heck of a challenge. Additionally, I speak a language that is not super common. Immersion in religiously- or culturally-specific schools and neighborhoods are really the only way to connect with others that way so, unless we enroll her in a specific type of school, I have to rely on myself to teach her. There's also the small issue that such a school does not exist where I live. So there's that. :)
I have realized that she will most likely not speak the language as well as I do, especially because I had to download a Google Translate app to teach me some of the words I don't know. Language evolves, as we all know, and I'm sure slang and the conversational language has even changed significantly since I last visited my home country almost 10 years ago. And there is nothing better to aid in learning a language than being immersed in it. I do my best to speak to her in that language, and I read books to her in that language. I somehow know how to read it, even though I never learned it. But many of the words are beyond my knowledge, and that is tough. I will never be able to teach her how to spell words in that language, because I barely know how to. It hurts my heart, but it's reality. My mother will be able to help tremendously, but that will only go so far, as we live in different states. For now, we take advantage of my parents' visits as well as weekly video chats, where my mom spends the whole time singing to her and talking to her in our language. I recognize that my daughter will not grow up the way I did, spending summers and having the best time in my home country. Things are just different, and I accept it. But it does not mean it's not a sad realization. At this point, I'd be happy to even get her out there to visit!
Furthermore, what do you do when you don't want to be rude and speak in a language the people you are with do not understand? My husband gets it and he does not care if I speak to our baby in a language he does not understand. But what about when we're with anybody else? Her daycare teachers? My in-laws? Perhaps they would get it, too, but I grew up feeling like it's rude. Here's why: my stepfather does not speak that language, though he speaks yet another foreign language. While my family has no problem speaking with each other in our native tongue, we always switch to English so my stepdad, or anyone else who doesn't speak our language, can be included. I don't know if this is something many people think about, but it weighs on my mind. I want to make it clear that I do NOT think people who speak in their native tongue around others are being rude or that everyone should speak English to make everyone else comfortable. That's ridiculous. However, it makes me uncomfortable to be the one speaking in such a way that others won't understand and might even think I'm talking about them. Though there's only so much gossiping I could be doing with my infant. :)
I want her to learn early on, while she’s a sponge and it becomes second nature to her more easily. I think about how she will learn how to speak at daycare for the most part, and I think about how she might go to daycare using words she learned at home and then either not be understood or be corrected when she's there. I obviously know I'm not the first person on the planet who has dealt with this. My cousins are actually a perfect example. One of my uncles married an American woman who does not speak the language, but both their kids do, even if it's in a more limited capacity. The only difference is that my aunt understands it fluently, so she never felt excluded when my uncle would speak with my cousins in his native language. That situation notwithstanding, I do think balancing trying to teach your child a language no one else understands and trying not to be rude to those same people is a tough position to be in. On the other hand, it can give her an advantage intellectually since, rumor has it, children who are bilingual are cognitively enhanced. And the uniqueness of knowing my native tongue could pay off in her future and get her a specialized job or make business connections not many other people would be qualified for. Who knows? I do know that it is worth figuring out how to find the balance when it's something really important to you. I know plenty of people who regret not teaching their kids their native language, and I hope to not find myself in that same boat.
Just like raising a vegan child falls primarily on me and will come with lots of bumps and challenges, so will raising her as a bilingual child. It will most certainly be an uphill battle, but I'm up for the challenge because it means that much to me. :)