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Be Very Serious. Be Very Playful. The Bilingual Journey Demands Both.

May 21, 2014

Be Very Serious. Be Very Playful.

Being a parent involves an odd and delicate balance: you must be both very serious about your expectations for your children and yet very playful about how you carry them out. For parents raising bilingual kids, this quality of spirit is especially important in order to sustain effective action, day after day. The demands that you must make upon your children for extra effort in the minority language will be much easier for them to accept when pursued as lightly, playfully, joyfully as possible.

If the balance is tipped too heavily toward the serious side—without sufficient good humor—the journey may come to feel like a burden, for both parent and child. The child will primarily see the parent as a strict taskmaster, and not only can this damage a loving bond, times of defiance—even open rebellion—will likely grow.

On the other hand, if you’re not serious enough—if you’re too easygoing about your actions—the child probably won’t view your expectations very seriously, either, and will wonder if the minority language is really so important after all. In this scenario, vital routines, like reading aloud and daily homework, become much harder to maintain.

Whatever success I’ve had over the years, in fostering a second language among my students and my own children, is directly connected to the fact that I’m both extremely serious about this challenge and yet extremely playful. My expectations have always been high for the children I work with, but this is tempered by the humorous spirit which underlies my efforts. Not only do children respond far better to a playful approach, it makes the experience more enjoyable for the adult, too. (See With Bilingual Kids, There’s a Madness to My Method for more on this idea, including a fun video featuring my toothless seven-year-old son as a concrete example.)

I’m not suggesting that everything should feel like fun and games—that isn’t possible, or even desired. As they age, children must come to accept the fact that sometimes sweat and discipline alone are necessary to complete a task. At the same time, it’s vital to maintain a strong sense of humor and playfulness—particularly through the younger years—so that your children will come to feel positively toward the minority language and be willing, even eager, to make this long journey with you.

Quotes on humor and playfulness

Below are 60 great quotes to help keep you moving forward on the journey as lightly, playfully, joyfully as possible. Strengthen this side of your spirit and you’ll not only enjoy more success in raising bilingual children, you’ll live a happier life, too.

Joy is not in things, it is in us. —Richard Wagner

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things. —Robert Brault

It is essential to our well-being, and to our lives, that we play and enjoy life. Every single day do something that makes your heart sing. —Marcia Wieder

Each day, and the living of it, has to be a conscious creation in which discipline and order are relieved with some play and some pure foolishness. —May Sarton

We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance. —Japanese Proverb

People are all crazy…but the craziest are the ones who never allow themselves to be crazy. —Paulo Coelho

In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play. —Friedrich Nietzsche

In my soul, I am still that small child who did not care about anything else but the beautiful colors of a rainbow. —Papiha Ghosh

When I grow up I want to be a little boy. —Joseph Heller

A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived in him. —Pablo Neruda

The end of childhood is when things cease to astonish us. When the world seems familiar, when one has got used to existence, one has become an adult. —Eugene Ionesco

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. —Rachel Carson

When childhood dies, its corpses are called adults and they enter society, one of the politer names of hell. That is why we dread children, even if we love them. They show us the state of our decay. —Brian Aldiss

Children have neither past nor future; they enjoy the present, which very few of us do. —Jean de la Bruyere

One of the most obvious facts about grown-ups to a child is that they have forgotten what it is like to be a child. —Randall Jarrell

One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste. —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A man is getting old when he walks around a puddle instead of through it. —R.C. Ferguson

Adults aren’t generally struck with the urge to skip because their worries and burdens weigh them down and they forget that they can take themselves lightly. —Jessi Lane Adams

It’s only a matter of inches, but skipping gets me just that much closer to heaven. —Terri Guillemets

Angels skip, fairies skip, children skip—why can’t you and I skip? —Jessi Lane Adams

It is a happy talent to know how to play. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

My childhood may be over, but that doesn’t mean playtime is. —Ron Olson

The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression. —Brian Sutton-Smith

Those who play rarely become brittle in the face of stress or lose the healing capacity for humor. —Stuart Brown

Laugh at yourself and at life. Not in the spirit of derision or whining self-pity, but as a remedy, a miracle drug, that will ease your pain, cure your depression, and help you to put in perspective that seemingly terrible defeat and worry with laughter at your predicaments, thus freeing your mind to think clearly toward the solution that is certain to come. Never take yourself too seriously. —Og Mandino

Worry is like a rocking chair. It uses up all your energy, but where does it get you? —Bob Gass

I can usually judge a fellow by what he laughs at. —Wilson Mizner

I like a man who grins when he fights. —Winston Churchill

Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritation and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place. —Mark Twain

A sense of humor is a major defense against minor troubles. —Mignon McLaughlin

I think the next best thing to solving a problem is finding some humor in it. —Frank A. Clark

Humor is the instinct for taking pain playfully. —Max Eastman

Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing. —William James

A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs—jolted by every pebble in the road. —Henry Ward Beecher

Man is distinguished from all other creatures by the faculty of laughter. —Joseph Addison

A day without laughter is a day wasted. —Charlie Chaplin

A good time to laugh is any time you can. —Linda Ellerbee

If you are too busy to laugh, you are too busy. —Proverb

I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose. —Woody Allen

So many tangles in life are ultimately hopeless that we have no appropriate sword other than laughter. —Gordon W. Allport

Life is a vale of tears in which there are moments you just can’t stop giggling. —Robert Brault

Carry laughter with you wherever you go. —Hugh Sidey

At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities. —Jean Houston

Laughter is an instant vacation. —Milton Berle

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people. —Victor Borge

Everybody laughs the same in every language because laughter is a universal connection. —Jakob Smirnoff

There is little success where there is little laughter. —Andrew Carnegie

Laughter is carbonated holiness. —Anne Lammott

We don’t laugh because we’re happy—we’re happy because we laugh. —William James

The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer somebody else up. —Mark Twain

Warm weather fosters growth: cold weather destroys it. Thus a man with an unsympathetic temperament has scant joy: but a man with a warm and friendly heart has overflowing blessings, and his beneficence will extend to posterity. —Hung Tzu Cheng

The more light you allow within you, the brighter the world you live in will be. —Shakti Gawain

Man, when you lose your laugh, you lose your footing. —Ken Kesey

At times, challenges hit with the force of a roaring, rushing waterfall. The true test, however, is whether you can put your arms up and enjoy the feel of the water. —Aviva Kaufman

Above all else: go out with a sense of humor. It is needed armor. Joy in one’s heart and some laughter on one’s lips is a sign that the person down deep has a pretty good grasp of life. —Hugh Sidey

If I had no sense of humor, I would long ago have committed suicide. —Mahatma Gandhi

The earth laughs in flowers. —e.e. cummings

Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world. —Voltaire

“On with the dance, let joy be unconfined” is my motto, whether there’s any dance to dance or any joy to unconfine. —Mark Twain

And everything comes to One,
As we dance on, dance on, dance on. —Theodore Roethke

If you liked this post, you’ll love Instant Inspiration for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids.

Today’s post was adapted from a section of this unique resource, which I created expressly for parents on a bilingual (or multilingual) journey to empower their efforts and fuel their success.

How about you? Do you generally maintain an effective balance between being serious and being playful?

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