There are a range of well-known benefits for a child, a family, and even the world at large when a child is raised with more than one language. A few of these valuable benefits include:
- cognitive benefits, from childhood to old age
- social benefits, including closer communication with extended family members
- educational and professional benefits
- benefits for the world, when bilingual ability leads to bridge-building between cultures
At the same time, I think it’s worth drawing attention to the fact that raising a bilingual child—at least for the vast majority of parents—requires sizable sacrifices, too. And these sacrifices generally grow in proportion to the scale of a parent’s aim: if the goal is native-like proficiency in the minority language, including strong reading and writing ability—and yet schooling in the minority language isn’t part of the equation—then the sacrifices made over the course of the bilingual journey can be significant indeed.
Why is this important? Because I think people tend to focus on the benefits of bilingualism—as they should—but sometimes to the exclusion of the sacrifices that must be made to reap those benefits. I would never discourage anyone from seeking to raise a bilingual child—on the contrary, I always try to be as encouraging as possible because I believe that the benefits will always ultimately outweigh the sacrifices.
However, I also feel that it’s best to be bluntly honest about the challenges, too. Parents should enter this experience with their eyes open, clearly aware that the decision to raise a bilingual child—especially if the aim is high—will almost inevitably demand certain sacrifices, too, some that may not even be foreseen at the outset of the journey.
Because each family’s experience is naturally different, I can’t say which sacrifices will loom largest in another parent’s life, but perhaps sharing the main sacrifices of my own experience will suggest some likely challenges. My hope is that a keener awareness of this side of the bilingual journey might help cushion the impact of whatever sacrifices you face: after all, when we can anticipate the future, we’re better able to prepare for it and cope with it. (Please note: I’m just stating the facts of my experience for what they’re worth. I’m not whining over these circumstances—which I take full responsibility for creating—or angling for any sympathy.)
So let me describe the five biggest sacrifices that have been part of my journey to date. And below this post, I encourage you to comment by sharing your own experience of the sacrifices you’ve made (or expect to make) in raising a bilingual child.