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The Basic Formula for Bilingual Success

The Basic Formula for Bilingual Success

One of the most rewarding things about running The Bilingual Zoo, the friendly (and free) forum I opened in 2014, is the opportunity to follow the progress made by parents and children over time. It’s always a thrill for me when a thread begun by a parent, concerned over a child’s language development, is updated after six months or a year with happy news of stronger progress. This happens regularly, and the latest example is Stefania’s thread, which she updated the other day.

Not only are these successes gratifying to me personally, they also continually reaffirm for me, professionally, what I consider to be the basic formula for bilingual success.

The basic formula

Time and again, here’s the process that I observe…

  1. A parent feels some frustration over a child’s progress in the minority language (or languages).
  2. The parent shares this frustration in a new thread at The Bilingual Zoo.
  3. The “keepers” of our community respond with suggestions and support to help fortify and fuel the parent’s efforts.
  4. The parent makes more mindful and proactive efforts, persisting past the initial discouragement.
  5. Over time, the child exhibits stronger language development.
  6. The parent returns to The Bilingual Zoo to share this more satisfying progress.

Thus, the basic formula for greater progress—and bilingual success—is simply this:

Stronger efforts, over time, lead to stronger progress.

Be like a zombie

In the post 3 Essential Ways Parents Raising Bilingual Kids Should Be Like Zombies, the second “essential way” on my list is this:

2. Persevere like a zombie.

Zombies are also models of perseverance: they won’t let anything deter them from their hungry mission. Even when they suffer extreme injuries, wounds that would normally be fatal, they continue clomping toward their victims, one foot after the other.

In the same way, parents raising bilingual children must plod on persistently toward their goal, no matter the difficulties or setbacks, by taking another vital few steps each day.

Look, I know we’re not zombies (though it’s true that exhausted parents sometimes feel like zombies :mrgreen: ), and feelings of frustration are only natural when the progress we experience is falling short of our expectations. But the fact is, these feelings are often given too much weight and can get parents stuck in discouragement, even despair. Over the years I’ve heard from more than a few parents in this predicament, wondering if they should now simply abandon their bilingual dream. (As I stress in the post This is When You Should Give Up the Idea of Raising a Bilingual Child, the only time you should abandon this quest is when the bilingual goal isn’t truly important to you, not because you’re feeling momentarily disheartened by your progress.)

As much as I sympathize with such feelings of frustration, I also must respond with a healthy dose of “tough love” because getting stuck in discouragement is shortsighted and unnecessary—as the success stories at The Bilingual Zoo plainly demonstrate. Since language ability is never an all-or-nothing proposition—language ability exists on a broad continuum of proficiency—as long as you continue making the most effective efforts you can, your child will continue making progress and moving forward on this continuum toward stronger language ability.

The real issue

See, the real issue isn’t whether or not you’ll experience frustrations on your bilingual journey. Frustrations are a given, I think—though I also suggest that our actions can help prevent the larger frustrations from arising in the first place, or at least lessening their impact when they do. (See What Frustrates Me About Raising Bilingual Children for more on that perspective.)

No, the real issue is this:

How well can you take on your frustrations with a positive spirit and a longer-range perspective, converting these potentially destructive feelings into productive energy and more effective efforts? How clearly can you see that your frustrations are actually useful to your success because they point to the problems that must be addressed more mindfully, more proactively, in order to produce the more satisfying outcome you seek?

When all is said and done, success on the bilingual journey is largely a matter of perseverance. If you persevere past your frustrations, while continuously fortifying your efforts as best you can (and I hope my many resources can help!), you will surely experience the same kind of rewarding progress shared by parents at The Bilingual Zoo. As their examples show, the frustrations that serve as useful motivation for generating stronger efforts and greater success ultimately become, from a longer-term perspective, short-lived footnotes to the larger story of their bilingual quest.

So in those moments of doubt, I urge you to keep the basic formula for success firmly in mind…

Stronger efforts, over time, lead to stronger progress.

…and continue plodding forward—step by step, day by day—with as much patient and playful (and zombie-like) determination as you can muster. There’s always a payoff to perseverance!

Explore all my resources for maximizing success and joy on the bilingual journey!
How about you? How do you respond to frustrations? Could you respond even more positively?

Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability


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Welcome to Bilingual Monkeys!

I’m Adam Beck, the founder of this blog and The Bilingual Zoo, a lively worldwide forum for parents raising bilingual or multilingual kids. I’m also the author of the popular books Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability and Bilingual Success Stories Around the World. I’ve been an educator and writer in this field for 25 years as well as the parent of two bilingual children, now 19 and 16. I hope my work can help empower the success of your bilingual journey.

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