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This Might Be the Very Best Thing About Raising Bilingual Kids (And It’s Probably Not What You Expect)

The pure joy of piggyback rides.

There are many good things about raising bilingual children. In my case, with my kids now 10 and 8, these include…

  • Communicating with my children in my mother tongue and sharing the joys of this language with them
  • Seeing them communicate with family members and others who don’t speak our majority language
  • Giving them the gift of two languages, an ability that can positively impact their lives in so many ways

These are tremendous benefits, and we’ve been blessed to achieve them. At the same time, I’ve become more mindful of a benefit that isn’t often considered, but should be, because, when all is said and done, it might just be the greatest benefit of all.

Sometimes I didn't get much writing done.

Revel in the early years

The other day I gave a presentation in Hiroshima about raising bilingual kids. Naturally, there were a number of parents who have small children and one couple brought their little girl, just 14 months. After my talk was over (See Work with Me if you’d like me to speak in your community!), I chatted briefly with this couple. As I stroked the little girl’s silky brown hair, I urged these parents to revel in their daughter’s early years because this time will blink by so quickly.

I was thinking of my own daughter, who had the same silky brown hair as a baby.

And now suddenly she’s 10.

Reading aloud, day after day.

Giving more of myself

To be honest, I don’t think I’d wish for my kids to be small again, even if I could. I mean, I loved those years, but it’s best to keep plodding ahead.

Still, in that moment, I couldn’t help feeling wistful.

I said goodbye and left the building, and as I opened my umbrella in the rain, it hit me keenly: Because I’ve been so committed to nurturing our minority language since the day my kids were born, I bet I’ve spent substantially more time with them than I would have otherwise, if maintaining this daily language exposure wasn’t the same necessity. In other words, as a direct result of my bilingual quest, I think I’ve ended up giving more of myself to them during their childhood. And this has no doubt deepened our bond.

It’s not possible, of course, to say if my interaction, and relationship, with them would really have turned out much differently without the bilingual goal. Nevertheless, I can tell you that I’m deeply grateful for the fact that this aim has encouraged me to make spending time with my children, and consciously using that time as best I can, one of my highest priorities.

Among the many other benefits of the bilingual journey, this quiet, underlying advantage might be the very best thing of all.

Revel in the fun, fleeting early years.

How about you? What are your thoughts or feelings after reading this post?
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12 Responses

  1. Thank you for the great article.

    You are so right and that’s really the best part of it if I think it through.

    I would say that this also applies for other relatives like grandparents, cousins and even your friends who might be more engaged than they would otherwise.

    1. Agnes, you’re right, and I wish that was more the case for us! Although our communication with extended family is steady, the distance between us is an obstacle to this benefit.

  2. Great thought. I must say I am having some wonderful conversations with my 5yo as she is becoming even more aware of her ability and asks questions about the relationship between her two languages, as well as why some of her family don’t speak both. I feel this has given us a bond that while may have manifested itself otherwise, becomes so engaging when it is framed around the nuances of both languages.

    1. Brett, this is well stated and I can identify with your feelings. The bilingual goal may make life more challenging, but it also makes our days richer. :mrgreen:

  3. Yes, yes, yes! When I think back, even before my children were born, when I found out I was pregnant, I began looking for bilingual storybooks, I spent HOURS listening to old children’s songs and writing down lyrics I had forgotten after living in the U.S. for 20+ years, etc. My intentionality with my kids has been so much more “alive” because of my strong desire and commitment to pass down my native language to them.

    Now I’m undertaking a hard task that some days I can only stick to out of sheer passion for the cause (to enable my children to connect with the Brazilian language, culture, and family members) – bilingual homeschooling!!! I recently wrote about my experience here: http://www.multilingualliving.com/2015/04/08/teaching-my-children-to-read-in-two-languages/

  4. Great insight. I do think that by engaging more actively with my four-year-old twins’ bilingual development over the last month or so, I have by the same efforts spent more quality time with them and strengthened our relationship. It’s encouraging to hear your experience from further down the bilingual parenting road!

    1. James, I’m glad to hear that this post spoke to you, and happy to know that your stronger efforts have been paying off in your relationship with your twins, too.

  5. I totally agree with you Adam! I reduced my working days to 2 days a week and spend all my time with my daughter. She not only speaks the two languages perfectly and enjoys the company of her Georgian cousins, she also is the happiest child nurtured by mummy close to her and I feel so happy that I can see most of her growing time. Now she is trying to say some words in the third language too as I am a bilingual parent and I am trying my best to give this free gift to my child! Thank you for your interesting articles!

    1. Nino, I’m very glad to hear your bilingual (trilingual!) journey is full of such success and joy! That’s the way it should be (at least most of the time), so I simply encourage you to keep up your good efforts and savor this special time while your daughter is still small. My own daughter turns 14 this week and it’s hard to believe how quickly this has happened!

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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 widely-read book Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability. I’ve been an educator and writer in this field for over 20 years as well as the parent of two bilingual children, now 16 and 13. I hope my work can help empower the success of your bilingual journey.

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