Instilling in a bilingual child the value of his minority language is another key objective for parents. If the child sees little value in the language, then encouraging its development will be a much bumpier road to travel. Conversely, a positive attitude toward the language will naturally help propel its growth.
Regularly talking up the value of the minority language, by citing ways the child’s bilingual ability may benefit his future, can be one important factor in fostering the positive attitude we wish to nurture.
But an intellectual understanding only goes so far, especially with smaller children. Though I’ve always made an effort to stress the value of English (our minority language) to Lulu and Roy, and this has surely had some impact, I suspect what has moved the idea from their minds to their hearts is their direct experience of that value through interactions with other English speakers.
One possibility, of course, is play dates with other children in your community who speak the target language. Not only can these interactions promote language development and a positive attitude, they may also serve to aid a bicultural child’s quest for identity and a sense of kinship.
Because I tutor other bilingual children at home, there have long been opportunities for my kids to interact in English with others—a fortunate side effect of my work. (When they were younger, they were so eager to connect with these other kids that they often couldn’t contain themselves from barging through the door before the lesson was over. )
If at all possible, I recommend making the effort to cultivate relationships and situations that will enable your children to interact with other minority-language kids on an ongoing basis.
My other suggestion is a possibility you may have overlooked: serving as a homestay family for a minority-language visitor to your area. Of course, this will depend a lot on where you live and your home setting, but if this seems feasible, I would encourage the idea. Your local YMCA or other international organization would be good places to start when seeking out a homestay program.
To date, we have hosted three recent high school graduates, all young men of 18. The first, two years ago, was from Hawaii. The second, this past summer, was from Germany. And the third, last weekend, was from Tuvalu, a tiny island nation in the South Pacific. Our guests from Hawaii and Germany stayed with us for about a week, while the young man from Tuvalu was with us for just the weekend. (Since this post, we’ve also hosted a remarkable young man from Papua New Guinea. See his incredible story in Venomous Snakes and the Bilingual Child.)
It’s true, being a homestay family—especially for a week or longer—can be tiring (and a bit costly). Our house, in fact, is pretty small and we don’t really have a spare bedroom—we have to rearrange the room where the kids play, building a bed out of stuffed animals. (No, we give our guests a proper futon and blankets, don’t worry. But the extent of our accommodations probably makes our home more suitable for men—and so we indicate that preference.)
The significant upside, though, is all the memorable interaction that takes place between our family—particularly the kids—and these homestay guests. Eating meals together, playing games, taking short trips—and doing everything in English—is an invaluable opportunity for Lulu and Roy to make use of their minority language and come to a deeper understanding of its value.