There isn’t much that’s universal about our experiences of raising bilingual children. After all, our circumstances are invariably different: different countries, different languages, different lifestyles. And even when they might look similar on the surface, they can’t help but be different because our children are different: each child is unique, with a unique temperament, unique preferences, and a unique learning curve.
There is, though, one thing that’s clearly universal:
In fact, I suspect that every parent raising a bilingual child feels some form of frustration practically all the time! It’s just part of the process! The trick, I think, is to keep these endless frustrations reasonably small because the big frustrations are symptomatic of more serious concerns in your bilingual journey. And big frustrations, when they fester, can even have a negative impact on family relationships.
At the same time, every frustration, large or small, is also an opportunity to respond and somehow address the challenge at hand. In other words, frustration puts a problem sharply in our awareness and spurs us to take steps to improve the situation. In that sense, frustration is a positive and motivating emotion, which can lead to productive energy and more favorable conditions for a child’s language development.
Of course, I’ve felt my own series of frustrations over the years. In today’s post, I’ll tell you my main frustration at the moment. Then, in the comments, I encourage you to share what you find frustrating these days. Perhaps by airing our frustrations in this way, and offering helpful suggestions where we’re able, we can all come closer to our own effective response.
Dwindling time for homework
From time to time, on this blog and in my newsletter, I’ve mentioned that my daughter, now in third grade, is a bit high-strung. And when she’s facing some stress about the expectations she feels from school and from home, this can sometimes result in tearful defiance when it comes to doing daily homework in English, our minority language.
Although I’ve been able to maintain our “homework habit” since my children were small—in order to nurture their reading and writing ability, and overall proficiency—as they get older, this is becoming more difficult: we just don’t have as much time after school. As children in Japanese schools move into higher grades, the school day grows longer and the load of homework grows heavier. If their majority language also used the Roman alphabet, I imagine this would make things easier for them, but Japanese is completely different from English and it’s a notoriously time-consuming language to learn to read and write.
So I sympathize with my daughter, I really do. (My son is still in first grade, so his school hours, and homework load, aren’t as demanding yet.) At the same time, I’m reluctant to lower my expectations for their literacy development in English, which means I need to respond in such a way that manages to maintain these expectations, yet doesn’t feel like a burden to my kids.
Practice “preventive medicine”
In a way, my response to this situation began long before it finally arrived. Because I knew, early on, that I would eventually face this difficulty, with school hours and homework crowding out time for literacy in the minority language, I pursued a strategy of “preventive medicine”: I did my best to foster a solid foundation of reading and writing in English before they entered our local elementary school. This is why I established the homework routine that I describe in Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine, Part 1 (and Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine, Part 2) from the time they were about 3. And then, over the years, day by day, their reading and writing in English could steadily grow and get a good head start on their literacy in Japanese.
So, although the current frustration of shrinking opportunity for English is real, and something I’m determined to somehow address, it’s not as big a frustration as it might otherwise have been because of the progress already made through these earlier efforts. And this brings me to an important point:
If you can envision some of the larger challenges that will likely arise in the future, you may be able to lessen those difficulties and the accompanying frustration, even before they appear, by practicing “preventive medicine.”
This isn’t always possible, of course, but just like the health of our own bodies, you’ll probably enjoy a healthier bilingual journey with your children if this sort of forethought and preventive action is part of your mindset. Remember, smaller frustrations are better than the bigger ones, and to an important degree, you have some control over how large those frustrations will finally grow.