The other day at The Bilingual Zoo, a parent shared her frustration over an incident of “unsolicited advice,” where a health professional gave poor guidance on her bilingual parenting. As I considered my feedback, which I’ll share below, I also realized that addressing this difficulty—and any other difficulty, really, on this long bilingual journey—requires a two-step response.
Let me start, though, with the second step.
The second step of our response involves what you would expect:
What sort of action should be mindfully taken to effectively address the particular incident or problem at hand?
Here’s what I suggested in the case of this unsolicited advice…
Specialists in one field aren’t generally specialists in another, and I suggest simply ignoring any comments from people who have no experience or expertise in raising bilingual children. At the same time, I think even comments that come from more reliable sources should be carefully appraised, particularly when advice is offered without a sincere attempt to understand the fuller circumstances of your specific situation.
To me, both are vital for offering effective advice: personal experience plus keen understanding of the circumstances in question. After all, not everything that’s valid for one person’s experience is necessarily valid for another’s—and I think this is often very true for bilingual and multilingual families, since, though we do share some fundamental challenges, our circumstances are naturally quite different.
When the people we encounter—no matter who they are—lack experience in this area and, moreover, make no real attempt to grasp our circumstances, their “helpful advice,” while I know it can be unnerving, should be shrugged off and our focus must remain on what’s truly important: our own best efforts, day by day. And, in time, when the proof is in the pudding—when our children’s bilingual ability has grown active—we’ll ultimately feel deep satisfaction over the fact that we persevered past all hurdles and doubts and have realized the success we long sought.
So, again, that’s the second step of the equation: the action we take.
But let’s now look at the first step of our response. What comes before action? When difficulty and frustration arise, what should we do first?
A positive perspective
Actually, there’s one more sentence ending the post I made at The Bilingual Zoo. That single sentence relates to our whole perspective when it comes to difficulties and frustrations, and I believe this perspective should be held firmly in mind as the first step in our two-part process of response.
Here it is…
In other words, while you may not welcome such incidents or problems, by viewing them as “tests” of your conviction, your commitment, you’re more likely to address them in the right spirit: a positive perspective which then generates productive action. And as you overcome these “tests” to the best of your ability, you increasingly strengthen your will and fortify your heart. So the truth is—and, of course, this is true for any of our greater goals in life—it is the obstacles themselves, and our response to them, which demonstrate the depth of our desire and our faith.
If we truly want to raise a bilingual child—or realize just about any other dream in this lifetime—we surely can, but we must be willing to persevere past every single obstacle, large or small, that lies along the longer road to success.
See these posts to find related food for thought…
When You Feel a Lack of Support for Your Bilingual Journey from the People Around You
This Is When You Should Give Up the Idea of Raising a Bilingual Child
Well, I think it will depend on individual circumstances however I do strongly believe that those who give bad advice should be corrected.
The age of the child in question will play a key role here as this type of so called “helpful advice” can mess with a child’s mind i.e. child can become insecure and may not want to use their minority language as a result.
Emilia, I think your point is well taken. At the same time, I would agree that the reaction to such advice also depends on the particular circumstances. Certainly the child’s feelings toward the minority language, if the incident could potentially have a negative impact, are a more important priority than the feelings of the person giving the advice.
That’s an interesting point, Emilia! I’ll remember that for later. I’m the one who started the thread at The Bilingual Zoo, and my son is only 14 months old, so he didn’t seem too badly affected by the comment. 🙂 Still babbling away with his minority language syllables.