Bilingualism and Politics

Dear Virginie,
This summer I have become “a research junkie” on raising children bilingually and I just love your book most of all : ). You have a wonderful writing voice that transmits the informative/research side while complementing it with a very loving motherly voice, sensitive to the varying linguistic complexities present.
I have a question and seek your expert advice (on my linguistic complexity!)
I am a native English speaker, with near-native French. I am a French teacher here in the U.S. I adore French and feel it comes natural to me, enough
that I am comfortable speaking it at home about the everyday things with my children (I spent over a year in France where I lived with a French family with kids (babies and older plus years of exposure/study/practice/teaching etc)
My husband is a native Farsi speaker, but he has not transmitted that language fully to the children (he did not do the bilingual thing–did not have the energy or time to fulfill the commitment and as English is the language at home…). I am a conversant Farsi speaker, and our immediate community is largely Farsi speaking. While obviously valuable for us (!), this language is not as close to my heart as French! The kids have a solid passive knowledge of Farsi, but are not thrilled about attending classes and the like. That is at a standstill right now (they are just passively learning).
I have chosen to focus my efforts in French/English….however there is one other complication, as we are practicing Muslims I do not necessarily feel welcome in France, due to the politics and islamaphobia there. Does it make sense for me to devote my time and energy to teaching my children a language which although close to my heart as a mother & teacher, may not offer them anything in their future? Am I being super negative here? What is your take on this situation?
Thanks for reading my long letter and your attention on my linguistic problem!
Valerie
p.s. I have 5 children, ages: 14, 11, 8, 6, 3. We are numerous enough that for me it is worth taking a solid stand and committing myself to this for their childhoods and beyond…

Hello Valerie,

Hope you had a nice summer with your family – Having just returned from France, I have to agree with you that the current administration there has a lot to learn about diversity and acceptance. I think because of the current islamophobia, (here and there actually!) it seems even more important for you to teach your children how to speak French! With their language skills they have a chance to be a part of the solution when they grow up. They will be able to bridge cultures and have the communication skills to solve cross-cultural problems – We need more globally-minded youngsters and you’re on your way with your 5 children! So, yes, I definitely encourage you with French, English and Farsi. What a gift!
Thank you by the way for the kind comments about Bilingual By Choice. I’m now working on my second book but this time it’s a travel guide on French and Spanish Catalonia, following in the footsteps of 20th century artists. The research has been fun!

Have a great back-to-school –

Take care,
Virginie

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Check out these great sites for resources

Hello, I appreciated your comments on reading. Living in the US, we have had a lot of success reading to our sons in French since (really) the day they were born. They have a great vocabulary in French and I am sure a lot of it is due to the exposure to reading in the minority language that they have received.

I wanted to let you know that I discuss your book in a guest post at Multilingual Mania, also a great blog on bilingualism (http://multilingualmania.com/linguistic-resources-for-bilingual-parents/). My own site is http://bloggingonbilingualism.com/ and I mention it there as well. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

Eve

Thank you Eve. You have a great site - and thanks for discussing the book! There is so much useful information out there – (both books and articles online) for parents raising bilingual children, I’m thinking there is no excuse now – we can’t fail or give up!!

I see on your blog that you’re planning a trip to France – We’ll be heading over there this summer as well, to see family. I can’t wait to have the girls immersed in French, playing and telling stories with their cousins. It’s going to be great! Bon voyage to you and your family.

Take care,
Virginie

Comments (1)

Reading

Last month, the girls and I took a road trip together to Montreal, Canada – which is only 5 hrs. away. I spent my college years there and have always loved the city. But now I appreciate the exposure to French so much more! (… and always the pastries, cafes, bookstores….) It’s a great way for the girsl to hear and speak French and a lot less expensive than packing up and flying to France!

As I packed their little suitcases with new books to bring home, I made a pledge to read to them every day. We have books all around the house, but I don’t read to them in French every day and I should. I never got into the routine of reading books to the girls at bedtime, like many parents do. I prefer to read to Natasha and Sofiya during the day, when I’m more alert, more patient, and ready to answer their questions. But that also means that reading was always done at random times during the day, and that was part of the problem. I needed a fixed time for reading. To make it a priority. So now I read to them after lunch. We sit on the couch, we take our sweet time through all the stories, while they digest! And then, they’re nice and mellow, ready for a nap. (We love our naps here!)

Research shows that having access to books in your heritage language can really make a huge difference when trying to raise bilingual children. Granted it can be tricky to find books in some lesser-known heritage languages. But don’t give up! This is where you need to broaden your support network. Ask friends and family to get involved. The Internet obviously offers a lot of sites that sell books in different languages, including the great company Culture For Kids and Asia For Kids.

Here are some ideas on how we can promote reading:

  1. We can read baby books in both languages to our children long before they can read
  2. We can make family trips to the library. Most libraries – if they don’t have books in your native language – have at least picture books of most countries around the world
  3. We can expose our children to books we read when we were young
  4. We can put books by their beds
  5. We can offer them books as presents. (And ask friends to do the same!)
  6. We can ask lovely relatives to mail us any new discoveries from overseas
  7. We can serve as role models by reading books, magazines, and newspapers in their presence
  8. We can support our local libraries. One easy contribution is to donate books in your native language after your children have outgrown them.

 It’s important to remember that the more children read, the better they will develop their academic skills. According to well-known linguist, Professor Stephen Krashen, “There is now overwhelming research showing that free voluntary reading is the primary source of our reading ability, our writing style, much of our vocabulary and spelling knowledge, and our ability to handle complex grammatical constructions.”

I’m ready to read to Natasha and Sofiya every day – Let’s also support our schools and public libraries to make reading quality books available to all children!

Comments (1)

Logistics

Question:

I very much enjoyed Bilingual by Choice. I am expecting my first baby and I cannot wait to meet him! I am German, my husband is from the United States. We currently live in the US. We speak both English and German (but his German is a little rusty and I speak English with an accent). We want our child to know both languages but are unsure how to address the situation in the home. I will speak German, he will speak English. But what should we do when we speak in front of our baby? Should I speak German to my husband and my husband answers in English or would that be too confusing?

I’m glad you enjoyed the book! And I’m glad you’ve made the commitment to use your native language with your baby. First and foremost, the language situation at home has to feel very natural. What language do you and your husband speak to one another now? That will most likely be the language you use after the baby is born. Speaking German to your husband and him answering in English will quickly sound awkward and, unfortunately, will only teach your child that he or she doesn’t have to answer you in German!

But you’re lucky to have a spouse who speaks your native language. When you want a boost in German exposure, you can have “German-only” days at home, which is great practice for your spouse. In addition, it will show your child, as he or she grows, that the whole family values German, which will go a long way in your goal of raising a bilingual child. Best of luck and congratulations!

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Great news!

I’m excited to announce that Bilingual By Choice: Raising Kids in Two (or more) Languages has been selected as a finalist for the Book of The Year award (in the parenting category) by ForeWord magazine, with the winners (top 3) to be announced at BookExpo America in New York City on May 26th. 

http://www.bookoftheyearawards.com/finalists/2009/category/parenting/

Very cool.

Comments (1)

Francois Grosjean

Hello, Thank you for citing Life with Two Languages. You may be interested in my new book, Bilingual, which is coming out currently in North America. Here is the publisher’s description of it: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/GROBIL.html?show=catalogcopy

Good luck with your blog and my very best wishes to you.

François Grosjean

Dear Professor Grosjean,

It’s great to hear from you. I’ve just ordered your new book, Bilingual, and I look forward to reading it! Your research has greatly inspired my work. Hope your health is good. Take care,

Virginie

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Encouraging language learning

Question:

In our family, the dominant language is English. We also speak (some) Spanish with our daughters (6 and 4) and encourage their Spanish-language development as many of their peers, teachers, and caregivers speak Spanish as their primary language and we (my wife better than I) have learned some as we’ve gotten older. My wife also speaks German as a heritage language from her mother’s side, but very infrequently. Do you have advice on whether and how to encourage *both* non-English languages in an English-dominant house?

I’m happy to hear that your children are exposed to Spanish and German! Having friends, teachers, and caregivers who speak Spanish will be a great influence on them and if you and your wife try to learn the language along with them, they will see its value even more and will want to keep it up.

If you can take a trip together to a Spanish-speaking country, of course, that would boost their self-esteem and they would see first-hand the importance of speaking another language. It’s clear from your email that you understand the value of speaking a second language and you are passing on that curiosity and appreciation to your children – which is a huge step.

To give them some consistency, your wife could try to speak German with them at a particular time of day, let’s say reading a couple of stories before bedtime. Books she read as a child, or books that pass on fun cultural traditions or important family values. I hope some of the activities in the last two chapters help you get some ideas on how to share these two languages as a family.

Question:

I was wondering if it would help to make it a fun family thing — like “Today is German Day, and let’s speak only in German to each other, ok?” And make it seem like a game. It couldn’t be every day or it wouldn’t work, but maybe it could become scheduled, like every Monday/Wednesday/Friday.

That’s a great way to start! Consistency helps of course, so you could start with once a week and see how you and your family are enjoying it. Then, later on, you could try your schedule of Monday/Wednesday/Friday, if that works for you. Definitely have fun with it but you’ll soon be amazed at how quickly your son picks up words and adds to his vocabulary, it’s pretty amazing! If he needs to use it, he will learn it. So, on that one day a week, you try to make it German-only and he will quickly understand that he needs to speak German to you. Are there any weekly German playgroups in your area? An added bonus to keep you motivated. You can start one pretty easily, by putting up a flyer at your local library and inviting parents with toddlers to practice their German.

Enjoy!

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