There are just three steps to success in the “game” of raising bilingual kids.
As I explain in Why Raising a Bilingual Child is Very, Very Simple—and Very, Very Difficult, the process itself is straightforward…but carrying it out effectively is what often makes the bilingual journey such a great challenge.
Step 1: Stay in the game
As long as you continue moving forward, day after day, giving your honest best to the bilingual aim you seek, you will experience steady progress. Although each day demands attention, you must also guard against a too-narrow view of your current conditions. As your children grow, and as you make efforts, these conditions will evolve and improve. Frustrations are a natural part of the process, and larger issues should be addressed, but if you don’t see them within the broader context of your longer journey, they can consume the immediate moment and drag you down, exhausting your will and energy. Hold firmly to that longer view and persevere for another day, then another, in full faith that your efforts—however clumsy you think they may be—will pay off over time. The next two steps are also central to success, but this first one—just staying in the game—will go a long way toward achieving your aim. If you just show up each day and do your best, you’re bound to succeed to a satisfying degree; if don’t, you won’t. In this sense, the bilingual journey is a test of desire and spirit. There’s no shame in letting go of the goal if it’s not truly important to you, but if it is, then put your heart into this quest and view it not as a heavy burden but as a marvelous chance to empower your own spirit, day after day. To me, the bilingual journey is as much about a parent’s spiritual evolution as it is about a child’s language development.
Step 2: Play the game
Playing the game involves making the most effective choices and actions you can, given your circumstances and aims as well as your current know-how regarding a child’s bilingual development and your awareness of suitable resources in the minority language. And to an important extent, this is a process of trial-and-error, permitting more confident choices and actions as time goes by. When you’re a new parent, and just starting out, this can feel like an overwhelming task, particularly since the first few formative years of the child’s life can be so crucial for fostering the longer-term success you seek—and yet your knowledge and experience may be limited. This is a natural state of affairs, I’m afraid, and unless you’ve already been engaged in language work with children before having your own, it’s unavoidable. But this is exactly why the knowledge and experience of others now farther along on this journey can serve you well: such guidance—whether from blogs, forums, books, conversations, or coaching—will expand your know-how and awareness, and as you gain more personal experience, too, you’ll become better adept at making effective choices and actions for your particular circumstances and aims.
Step 3: Referee the game
In a way, you also have to referee the game, even as you’re busy playing it. When you referee the game, you’re staying continuously attentive to how well your choices and actions are working in view of the progress you seek for the goal you hold. And as you monitor this progress, you make adjustments, as necessary, to your choices and actions. You try new strategies and new resources that will better suit your ever-evolving circumstances and strengthen the effectiveness of your current efforts. Through this dual role of player and referee, you engage in an ongoing dance—back and forth, back and forth—between action and observation. At the same time, I realize that judging the success of certain situations can be tricky, and this is particularly true when the child is still small and hasn’t yet begun to speak. It isn’t unusual for parents with a first child to feel some impatience and wonder if speech will ever emerge. But the fact is, communication in the desired languages will eventually come, as long as the choices and actions made up front have been effective. Again, this is why I suggest that it’s wise to start playing the game early, and energetically, even when you don’t know the “rules.” You’ll learn what you need to know as you play. And if you just keep playing—day after day, year after year—you and your children will travel a long way together over the course of your bilingual journey.