“I Want to Be Bilingual”: Letter from a Newborn Baby

February 22, 2013

I Want to Be Bilingual

Dear Mommy and Daddy,

Here I am! Your new baby! I’m pretty darn cute, right?

I know you’re surprised to see this letter. You didn’t expect me to arrive with a special delivery, did you? But I had a lot of time on my hands in Mommy’s tummy. I mean, it was warm and cozy in there, and the room service was great, but it was kind of boring, to be honest. Just growing and growing, day after day. I recommend cable TV for the next kid.

There wasn’t much of a view, either. I couldn’t find any windows and I had trouble peeking from Mommy’s belly button. To tell the truth, I got a little worried. I didn’t know what to expect out here and I was afraid I might step right into a shark tank or something.

But I have to say, the world looks like a pretty cool place. And you guys—well, you seem friendly enough, I guess. (I wish you’d stop all that grinning, though. Those big teeth are making me nervous.)

You must be wondering why I wrote this letter, huh? Well, actually, I have an important favor to ask. The trouble is, I can’t talk yet. I can scream, you know, but I didn’t think screaming would be a polite way to ask for a favor. You probably wouldn’t really listen, anyway—you’d just stick a bottle of milk in my mouth.

I won’t be a teenager for years, and already we’re having problems communicating!

So I decided to write this letter.

Guys, here’s the thing: I want to be bilingual. (And I want a puppy, too, but let’s talk about that later.)

You see, being bilingual would be good for me, I think. I hear it’s good for the brain—it makes the brain stronger. Maybe I don’t really know what a brain is yet, but I figure it can’t hurt to have a good, strong one, right?

And being bilingual could be good for my future, too. I might have a chance to make more friends and get a good job. After you’ve spent all your money on me, I can help you when you’re old and poor.

Plus, I’m not sure yet if you guys speak two different languages or what, but if you do, I’d like to learn both of them. I mean, unless I can speak the languages you know best, I don’t think I can really know you, or your culture.

The problem is, I can’t become bilingual all by myself. I would if I could—but I’d also change my own diapers, if that were possible, so I wouldn’t have to wait around for you to notice. No one likes diaper rash, you know.

What can you do to help me be bilingual?

Well, first of all, talk to me a lot in both languages. Don’t talk my ears off, okay—I need my rest, too—but the more you talk to me, the more I’ll be able to talk to you, when I’m ready. (And sorry for all the wild tantrums I’ll throw when I get older. Please don’t take it personally when I call you “big meanie” and try to bite you.)

Also, read to me every day, year after year. If you read to me in both languages, it will really help. I’ll learn both languages better, and I’ll learn to read on my own more easily, too. And when we snuggle up together to read, I’ll grow to love books. (Just don’t drop one of those chunky board books on my head, okay? I wouldn’t like that.)

At the same time, do whatever you can to support my second language—the one I don’t use as often. Even when I moan about this stuff, keep going, keep trying. When I’m grown up, and I’m bilingual, I’ll be really glad you did your best. If you give up, I think we’ll both regret it.

Guys, thanks for listening. I’m happy we’re together now. I know everything won’t be as much fun as thumb-sucking, but I’m excited about the future. And most of all, let’s remember to love each other, day and night, like there’s no tomorrow.

Fondly,

Your Newborn Baby

P.S. I want a puppy with floppy ears.

Want to read this in Polish? Aneta Nott-Bower kindly posted a translation at her terrific blog for Polish speakers who are raising bilingual children, called Bilingual znaczy dwujezyczny.

If you’d like to repost this letter on your site, or translate it into another language, just contact me with your request! Thanks!

And take a peek at another tongue-in-cheek post, How to Fail Miserably at Raising a Bilingual Child.

See value in this post? Please share it with the universe! (There may be aliens raising bilingual kids, too, you never know.) Then add your thoughts below. Thanks!

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1 Annika February 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Hi Adam,

A great post, as usual! I wish I had been able to send this letter to my parents when I was a baby. I just wrote about my feelings as a grownup who didn’t learn her mother’s languages: http://journalofabilingualfamily.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/my-mothers-tongues/

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2 Adam February 22, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Annika, I like your post very much. Despite any disappointment over the past, it’s wonderful how you’ve managed to become multilingual over the years and are now giving the same gift to your children. Good for you!

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3 Olga @The EuropeanMama February 22, 2013 at 7:20 pm

How cute is this letter! I already feel the baby in my belly composing it :D I want my children to be multilingual, so that’s a good thing that we agree on that :D

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4 Adam February 22, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Congratulations, Olga! I wish you and your new baby a marvelous multilingual journey together!

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5 dennis February 22, 2013 at 8:20 pm

You truly hit the nail on the head with the quote:
“Even when I moan about this stuff, keep going, keep trying.”

My son moaned and groaned from 5th to 9th grade about this. He hit High School, and people were searching him out. They wanted to be friends with the bilingual guy who knows so much about English.

MY SON THANKED ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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6 Adam February 22, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Dennis, that’s so great to hear! Thanks for sharing your experience! I hope my kids will thank me one day, too…though it probably won’t be today since they both weren’t happy about doing their homework. :mrgreen:

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7 Ute February 25, 2013 at 12:51 am

This is a great letter! I think I’ve written it to my parents too and they agreed with my request(s) and I’m a very happy multilingual today, raising multilingual children ;-) – Somehow it reminds me the letter that François Grosjean did write to his grandchild (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/life-bilingual/201211/born-be-bilingual)

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8 Adam February 25, 2013 at 9:00 am

Ute, thank you for your kind comment. It’s wonderful how your family has created a multilingual legacy, from generation to generation. The letter written by François Grosjean to his new grandchild is lovely, I think. Thanks for sharing the link.

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9 Denhi March 1, 2013 at 11:48 am

Just stumbled upon your blog and I love it! I’m a native Spanish speaker and have started doing my fair amount of research for my now 13 month old boy! He will totally be bilingual at least! I love languages I speak 3 fluently and am learning my 4th, I blog about my experience as well, not exclusively but have dedicated several posts to this topic at http://denhie.blogspot.com/2013/01/bilingualbicultural.html. Thank you for posting a blog for parents like me!

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10 Adam March 1, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Denhi, I appreciate your comment. I’m happy to hear you like my site—stop by anytime! I wish you the best of luck on the bilingual journey with your son! (You have a cute blog!)

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11 Amanda @MissPandaChinese March 4, 2013 at 5:29 pm

What a cute letter! I really enjoy it. Raising bilingual kids starts at home. This is a journey with ups and downs. But, it is an amazing journey. I agree we need to keep it going and keep trying even when the kids are encountering some bumps on the way. It is a gift that we have for them.

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12 Adam March 4, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Amanda, thanks! I’m glad you liked it! I absolutely agree: bilingualism is among the greatest gifts we can give our kids.

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13 kiara March 11, 2013 at 7:28 am

wow… sweet and really touching letter…love it!! and great comments too…hope more people will understand the importance to be bilingual and they will open their mind…and stop thinking: oh poor babies they probably won’t understand anything? or they do understand u?? or: u speak english with viola, r u gonna speak to matteo in english too? thank uuu

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14 Adam March 11, 2013 at 9:10 am

Kiara, thank you, too! I wish you the best of luck on your own bilingual journey! Let’s keep moving forward, no matter what! :mrgreen:

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15 Stephen Greene May 1, 2013 at 9:27 am

A great letter and a good way to keep the motivation up for tired, hard-working parents.

I just wish you had something earlier about not letting the board book hit baby’s head as this has happened a few times. Ouch!

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16 Adam May 1, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Stephen, thanks. I’m glad you liked this post. Yes, I agree, those board books should probably come with some sort of warning sticker!

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17 Mercedes May 2, 2013 at 12:57 am

What a cute post! And I agree with baby, it will be so much easier starting from the beginning! I can’t blame my parents for the way they approached it, but I have been a little too relaxed and need to step up my game! Thanks for the reminder, “baby”!

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18 Adam May 2, 2013 at 7:47 am

Mercedes, “baby” is happy to hear this post was a helpful reminder! Best of luck with your efforts at home!

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19 Jeffrey Nelson June 3, 2013 at 12:41 pm

This is a great letter! I share the other sentiments… as I get started in my own journey, I sure hope my son can thank me some day! I would really like to get him a third language to really give him a leg up.. but then I’d have to change the name of my blog… :)

Jeffrey Nelson

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20 Adam June 3, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Jeffrey, I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I wish you the best with your efforts to support your son’s bilingual development. Keep up the good work on your blog, too!

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21 Raira June 24, 2013 at 4:03 pm

I am at the library and some people here gave me stares as they saw me trying to control my giggles while reading this!

I just can’t help but laugh, I mean controlled laugh, lol!

Adam, you are such a comedian! I like those funny lines fictioned by you. I was so sleepy here and this made me so awake! I agree with the baby’s letter! This really sounds so right! I am pretty sure that kids or even the grown-ups who see bilingual kids like Lulu and Roy are really regretting this thing! Maybe they are saying “If only I could tell my Mom and Dad that I wanted to learn their other language too, so I have much more advantage in this and that…” This is the best eye opener to everyone who happens to be bilingual or multilingual – not to waste their own language skills! It is a must share, must progress and must multiply!

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22 Adam June 24, 2013 at 9:40 pm

I’m glad it made you laugh, Raira! It was fun to write! (P.S. I like your enthusiastic spirit. Keep this spirit strong and I’m sure both you and your children will benefit greatly from your bilingual journey.)

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23 rose February 25, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Yes, it is great for kids to be bilingual. I teach ESL and based on studies, it seems it helps organize language and lessen confusion and merging when one parent talks almost exclusively in English to their child and the other in the 2nd language. It is good for them to hear parents speak to each other using either language and try not to blend them when they speak.

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24 Adam February 26, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Rose, thank you for adding your helpful thoughts. Best wishes with your teaching!

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25 Beata March 5, 2014 at 10:05 pm

“When I’m grown up, and I’m bilingual, I’ll be really glad you did your best. If you give up, I think we’ll both regret it.”
I won’t give up, my Little Monkey! :D Fondly, Your Mummy!

Adam! Your website is fantastic! Thank you very much! Beata from Hungary!

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26 Adam March 6, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Beata, thank you for your kind words! Let’s keep doing our best for our little monkeys, day after day! :mrgreen:

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27 Patty August 5, 2014 at 12:04 pm

My fiancee and I are thinking about having a baby and we want it to be bilingual of course. Our mother tongue is Spanish and we live in a Spanish speaking country so it’s a little concerning and maybe challenging for me since most likely my mother-in-law will take care of the baby most of the time and she only speaks Spanish. We are both fluent in English and he’s actually an English teacher so maybe that will help? I was just wondering if you thought it would still stick although it probably wouldn’t be so many hours a day where the baby would be surrounded by people speaking English. Thanks in advance. :)

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28 Adam August 6, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Patty, the two “core conditions” for fostering active language ability are exposure and need: the child must receive sufficient exposure to the target language and also feel a genuine need to use it for communication. I can’t judge whether you will be meeting these conditions in the scenario you describe, though it sounds like there may be a lack of exposure unless you make English your home language, with both you and your partner consistently using English with the child.

For much more food for thought, I encourage you to see such articles as…

How Many Hours Per Week Is Your Child Exposed to the Minority Language?

What to Do When Your Bilingual Child Won’t Speak Your Language

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29 DJ August 8, 2014 at 6:54 am

Adam, I love the letter and I think the sentiments go well with this video: http://youtube.com/watch?v=v8vi31Pg1MQ. In general, I like the fact that you have created a site for like minded parents. I hope to speak with you soon!

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30 Adam August 8, 2014 at 12:05 pm

DJ, I’m glad you enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing the link to your video. :mrgreen:

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