In Why Communicating in English with My Kids is So Important to Me, I mentioned the fact that Lulu takes a dance class on Mondays. She seems to have a natural passion for dance—she’s been dancing in the house pretty constantly since the time she was upright—and I’m happy to support this interest. (Although we have to scold her at times because she even bops about while sitting in her chair during meals.)
The truth is, my support for Lulu’s dancing (I volunteered to be the designated driver, too) isn’t simply about a father aiding a daughter’s activity; my enthusiasm also comes from my own love of dance.
Now I look pretty smashing in tights, I must tell you, but I was never formally involved in a dance class of any kind. The extent of my dancing has been limited to leaping about wildly—like I had several eels in my pants—at parties and dances in high school and college.
My passion for dance—particularly, contemporary dance and jazz dance—is linked to the passion of dance itself. I had a long background in theater until my kids were born, but as strongly as I feel about the power of theater, dance, at its best, is the physical expression of pure passion.
Wait! Before you click away, wondering what the heck dance has to do with raising bilingual kids, please hear me out. I suggest that it has everything to do with how effective you’ll ultimately be because this bilingual quest—like achieving success at any larger, long-term quest—is all about passion. It’s about how much passion you have as you begin, and how much passion you can sustain over time.
If your situation is anything like mine—my children attend a majority language (Japanese) school; I’m the main source of minority language (English) exposure in their lives and yet not the main caregiver; we rarely have opportunities to travel abroad—then your level of passion is crucial.
Take an honest look: How much passion do you really have for raising a bilingual child? Does your level of passion match the height of your goal? Whatever goal you have for your child’s minority language is fine—from passive understanding to full literacy, it’s completely up to you—but you’ll likely come to be frustrated if your level of passion is too low for the goal you hope to reach.
Believe me, it can be frustrating enough even when your passion is high!
Still, as daunting as this challenge can be, it’s also quite clear that whatever success I’ve managed so far (my own goal is for Lulu and Roy to keep pace with the English level of their peers at international schools and schools in English-speaking countries) is the product of the passion I feel for supporting the minority side of bilingual kids, both my own and others. And this blog is my attempt to share that passion with you and help stoke whatever level of passion you need when it comes to supporting the language development of your own children.
One last thought: Beyond its impact on the bilingual development of our kids, the sort of passion we express for this task, and for every other aspect of our days, will ultimately convey to these little people our sense of passion for life itself. As important as nurturing good bilingual ability is to me, of even greater significance, I think, is the goal of fueling their passion for life, for living, whatever they may do. It’s our example, more than anything, that will help foster that spirit.
And eels in your pants are optional.