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The One Thing You Absolutely, Positively Must Have to Raise a Bilingual Child

No, it’s not a pencil sharpener. (Though that’s important, too, I guess. :mrgreen: )

The thing I’m talking about is undoubtedly the most important thing of all. Without it, in fact, your odds of successfully raising a bilingual child will plummet dramatically. And this is true no matter how knowledgeable you are about bilingualism, or how crafty you’ve been in constructing your plans.

What is it? Well, first, I should tell you why this thing is on my mind today. There are three reasons:

  1. My father’s wife passed away the other day. (My parents divorced when I was a teen.) A gentle soul, she hadn’t really been well for a while, but her death still came as something of a shock to us all.
  2. This week I’ve been battling another sinus infection—I seem to get them regularly now, particularly when the seasons change. It’s like having a terrible cold, and leaves me very weary.
  3.  Tomorrow is Roy’s birthday! He’ll be 6. And in June, Lulu turns 9.

So what does all this have to do with “the one thing you absolutely, positively must have to raise a bilingual child”? Let me explain…

When times get tough

Assuming this quest to raise bilingual kids lasts until they’re, say, 18, then it means I’m roughly halfway there with Lulu and one-third along the journey with Roy. It’s true, I’ve covered some good ground to this point, but it’s also clear that the road ahead remains long.

At the same time, as seen in my struggles this week involving my father’s wife and my own health, life continually presents challenges that impact me emotionally and physically. This has been the case since the quest began, and will be true throughout its distance.

When things are going smoothly, and I’m cruising for months at a time with little emotional or physical distress, sustaining my energy for the bilingual journey comes easily. It’s when times get tougher—and they always do—that this one vital thing is needed to keep the quest on track.


Day in and day out

When all is said and done, it’s our level of perseverance that will determine whether or not we reach the destination we seek. This is true, of course, for every quest in our lives, though the bilingual journey, I think, is a particularly long and challenging venture that demands persistent attention, day in and day out.

This week, for example, I had little energy for our daily homework routine…and yet I forced myself to do it. In my case, if I start excusing myself from the usual efforts I make, because I’m feeling low emotionally or physically, it would then become easier to excuse myself again the next time, and the next. Unless my personal distress is severe, I can’t allow myself to cut corners and risk unraveling our daily rhythm.


Fix the goal firmly in mind

The next time you’re feeling low, and set to slight your usual efforts, ask yourself:

Am I really feeling bad enough right now not to nurture the long-term dream I have for my children, a dream that can only be realized if I make these efforts on a daily basis?

In some cases, the answer is a very reasonable (even resounding) “yes”—at times, it would even make more sense to rest up and restore your energy. This is perfectly understandable, and not an ounce of guilt is necessary.

What I’m getting at, of course, are the other times—the times when you’re not feeling your best and yet you know, if you’re being honest with yourself, that you can still soldier on if you’ll just summon enough perseverance. The trick, I think, is to recall your long-term dream and fix it firmly in mind. It’s when we lose sight of the larger journey, and the importance of each day in advancing toward that destination, that we have a tendency to slack off in our efforts.


Words of wisdom

I’ll leave you today with some words of wisdom on the theme of perseverance…

By perseverance the snail reached the ark. —Charles H. Spurgeon

When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself. —Isak Dinesen
This is exactly my philosophy!

Perseverance is everything. We all stumbled when we took our first steps yet we were running sooner than we realized, and then we couldn’t stay still. Why stay still now? —Rob Liano

You go on. You set one foot in front of the other, and if a thin voice cries out, somewhere behind you, you pretend not to hear, and keep going. —Geraldine Brooks

It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required. —Winston Churchill

Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance. —Samuel Johnson

Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring. —St. Catherine of Siena

Success is a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you’re tired. You quit when the gorilla is tired. —Robert Strauss

With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable. —Thomas Fowell Buxton

In truth, I am nothing but a plodding mediocrity—please observe, a plodding mediocrity—for a mere mediocrity does not go very far, but a plodding one gets quite a distance. —Benjamin N. Cardozo

Even in the mud and scum of things, something always, always sings. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” —Mary Anne Radmacher

A large oak tree is just a little nut that refused to give up. —David McGee

How about you? How do you keep up your efforts when times get tough and you’re feeling low?

4 Responses

  1. Thanks again Adam for sharing. You are a really inspiration in my way to keep up with my two bilingual children (Sean 14, Paz 8). Keep up with it!!

    1. Alejandra, thank you for the kind words. I’m happy to hear my blog is a source of encouragement. Let’s both keep doing our best on this bilingual journey with our kids! (And best of luck with your good work in New York! I enjoyed my visit to your site!) :mrgreen:

  2. Thank you for the inspiration and the great quotes. Yesterday indeed I didn’t read aloud to my baby. 🙁 I will repeat to myself your words the next time it is about to happen.

    1. Agnese, while it’s important to stay as mindful and proactive as we can, day by day, it’s also important to remember that…

      Nobody’s Perfect at Raising Bilingual Children

      For all of us there will be days when we feel that our efforts were somehow “lacking.” The best thing to do is simply try harder the next day and hold firmly in mind that our children’s eventual ability in the target language, when they’re older, will depend on the efforts we make each day through all the days that come before that. In other words, each day is important to our greater goal; each day matters.

      Have fun reading to your baby, Agnese! I’m with you in spirit, day by day!

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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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