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What NOT to Do When You’re Struggling to Raise a Bilingual Child

What NOT to Do When You’re Struggling to Raise a Bilingual Child

APPEAL FOR BOOK REVIEWS (Please read!)

If you’ve read Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability, or any of my other books, and you found value in what you read, I’d be so grateful if you’d add a review to the book page at Amazon—even a short review would mean a lot to me and I’d love to see it. I know there are many readers who haven’t yet left a review and your reviews would be enormously helpful. The fact is, practically every book will get some 1-star reviews, but these are still really frustrating to the author and damaging to the book—especially when the review is actually mistaken about the contents of the book itself. (The other day someone said that Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability is only suitable for families where the parents are using two different languages, but that isn’t true at all: the basic principles and ideas found in the book can benefit the efforts of any parents wanting to raise a bilingual or multilingual child.)

I know adding a review can be a nuisance, but sharing your positive impressions in this way would be extremely helpful to me and I’d be deeply thankful. In fact, I’ll happily thank you personally, too, if you just email me after leaving your review! Here’s the link to my author page at Amazon.com, where you’ll find all my books. Or, of course, please add reviews at the other Amazon sites. (I welcome reviews at Goodreads, too.) Thank you for your support! :mrgreen:

Over the many years I’ve been working with bilingual and multilingual families, I’ve sought to support parents with ideas and encouragement for maintaining momentum and overcoming difficulties. Through a range of ways—through this blog, through my forum, through my books, through email and social media, through workshops and consulting sessions, and now through my new private coaching program—the aim has always been to help parents effectively address their struggles, or even avoid these struggles entirely before they can occur. And the greater purpose of all this work is simply this:

Because I know how important your bilingual or multilingual journey is to you and your family—how heartfelt this dream is—I truly want you to experience as much success and joy as possible over the course of the childhood years.

What You SHOULDN’T Do

However, from time to time I also think it can be helpful to offer thoughts on what NOT to do when you’re struggling in some way. Because of Bilingual SuperKids, I’m now speaking frequently to parents about their concerns (you can speak to me, too, if you like: the initial call is free and without further obligation) and these conversations have made it clear that there are several things you should NOT do if you truly want to experience greater success and joy on this journey.

1. Don’t Give Up
As I continually stress, language development is not an all-or-nothing proposition. If you simply keep going, no matter what, you will generate gradual progress and enjoy some degree of success. The outcome may not match your original dream, but you can travel a long, rewarding way over the 18 years of childhood…as long as you don’t give up from frustration and discouragement. Since language development is a continuum without end, the only way to actually fail at your aim is to abandon your efforts entirely. In other words, you can’t fail—your child will make progress—if you simply continue stepping forward from day to day, from week to week, from month to month, from year to year. Even small steps, persistently made, will end up covering the distance of a marathon, right?

2. Don’t Ignore the Problem
I understand that our lives are busy (probably too busy), but when the busyness of daily life distracts us from mindfully focusing on our difficulties, and proactively addressing them, then we’re essentially ignoring the problem. And make no mistake, days with young children may seem long, but the weeks and months will speed by before you know it. Not only won’t the situation improve on its own, it may well grow worse. For example, one widespread challenge involves the child understanding the minority language when spoken to, but generally responding in the majority language. This is a problem that can certainly be addressed in strategic ways with the aim of activating the child’s passive ability. Yet if sufficient action isn’t taken, this difficulty will likely persist, and become even more intractable over time. When you’re experiencing a larger concern like this, and you truly want to improve the situation, address it without delay.

3. Don’t Rationalize Shortcomings
I often ask parents: “How important is your bilingual or multilingual aim to you? Rate this sense of importance on a scale from 1 to 10.” From the response, the level of importance, of priority, becomes very clear. However, when a parent tells me that this aim is important to them, yet they rationalize the shortcomings of the situation—making thin excuses for their lack of action or claiming that dissatisfying results are somehow acceptable to them—this obviously raises a red flag. How important is this aim to you, really? The point is, the level of our actions must match the level of our priority. If the priority is high—truly high—then our actions must support the scale of our ambitions. When that isn’t the case—when there’s a gap between the two—the lesser results will produce disappointment and perhaps an attempt to rationalize away these shortcomings.

4. Don’t Think Perfection
The bilingual journey is an experience embedded within your life itself and that life, like all our lives, is inherently messy and imperfect. That’s the way it is, for all of us, and this is why our mantra must simply be: Progress, not perfection. No matter how messy it feels, no matter how many times you think you’ve “failed” at your efforts, as long as you keep plodding forward from day to day, doing your honest best, you’ll continue generating momentum and progress. But if you judge yourself based on the unrealistic expectation that you somehow need to do things “perfectly,” you may set yourself up for continual discouragement. So let me give you full permission, from this point forward, to pursue a messy journey marked by many moments of “failure.” Since that’s just the nature of this experience, your acceptance of this fact will then free you from unnecessary frustrations. Such frustrations are an example of “overthinking” things when it’s often best to simply persist in your actions, zombie-like, and learn from them along the way.

5. Don’t Take Bad Advice
The very best advice for you can only be given by someone who has experience and expertise in raising bilingual or multilingual children and knows the full details of your particular situation. For instance, when I’m asked for advice, and I don’t know the full details, I tend to stress that my response offers general thoughts on that question or concern, which I hope will be helpful, but I can’t really tailor this response most effectively to their situation without knowing the complete context. So any advice you receive may or may not be “good” for you, depending on the person and the problem, but it’s unlikely to be the “best” advice because the most effective advice must be based on the specific details of the situation. It’s like seeking a diagnosis for a medical condition without providing much information on your symptoms or undergoing any tests to determine the cause. The doctor might still be helpful to you, but it’s also possible that the advice you receive will be misguided or inadequate. To get the most accurate diagnosis, and the most effective treatment, a deeper understanding of the situation is needed.

What NOT to Do When You’re Struggling to Raise a Bilingual Child

What You SHOULD Do

So that’s what you shouldn’t do if you’re struggling to raise a bilingual child. But what should you do? Well, just the opposite…

1. Keep going, no matter what.

2. Proactively address your difficulties.

3. Don’t make excuses for inaction.

4. Be okay with this messy, imperfect process.

5. Get good guidance and support.

And, honestly, if you want the very best guidance and support I can offer, partner with me at Bilingual SuperKids to receive continuous, customized coaching that lasts throughout the years of your bilingual or multilingual journey. This private coaching program is the culmination of my career and is already supercharging the success and joy of families worldwide.

To learn more, just visit Bilingual SuperKids and book a free call with me to discuss your situation in detail. I’ll try to be as helpful as I can, in our initial conversation, and you’ll be under no obligation beyond that. Also, I realize that long-term coaching support like this might sound expensive, but I think you’ll find that it’s more affordable than you imagine. In fact, in the greater scheme of things, the cost is probably less than one roundtrip plane ticket on your next vacation, or literally pennies a day if spread over the full length of your bilingual or multilingual journey.

Wouldn’t greater success and joy at such an important aim be well worth just pennies a day?

How about you? Are you struggling in some way to raise a bilingual child?
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11 Responses

  1. Thanks for this article, Adam! This sentence “How important is this aim to you, really?” really got me thinking! I’ve abandoned my efforts for the last 3 weeks and I have been trying to rationalize it and analyze the situation. I’m trying to get back into the habit of daily English once again and being mindful about the whole situation. 🙂

    1. Kasia, I’m glad you found this post encouraging. If your bilingual aim is important to you, I urge you to stay as mindful and proactive as you can realistically manage. The more mindful and proactive we are from day to day, the more momentum and progress we can generate over the weeks and months and years of this journey. I’m cheering for you, Kasia!

  2. Great reading. I read everything you write and have the book.

    I speak English (not my native language) to my daughter since she was born. She only gets exposure to the language with daddy time and cartoons.

    She understood everything but never talked in English. In April we went to New Zealand for one month and she realized that English was a thing. Mummy also spoke to her in English there. That changed everything we are now back to Portugal and she only speaks in English. She just did 3 years old. The only issue now is that she replies on English to everyone no matter the language! I guess that’s a victory anyway.

    I am so happy I was doubting that this was working. But it did work.

    Thank you for everything Adam!

    1. Hugo, I’m happy to hear about your early success with your daughter! It sounds like the trip to New Zealand helped boost your good efforts at home in Portugal, enabling her to begin using English more actively. Now that she’s again immersed in more Portuguese, her Portuguese side will naturally grow stronger again, but as long as you (along with your wife and other English speakers) continue to provide her with ample exposure and engagement in English, too, the odds of sustaining your rewarding progress are high. So keep doing your best from day to day! I’m cheering for you from Japan!

      And thank you for following my work! I’m so glad it’s helpful to you. Please share my blog and books with others in Portugal who are interested in raising bilingual kids! :mrgreen:

      1. I recommend your work all the time and we’ll keep doing it!

        I have a question regarding my daughter’s language development, but I also booked a 30-minute consultation to discuss this further. However, I wanted to share the question here in case others might find it helpful.

        Our daughter has been raised using the OPOL method, with mommy speaking Portuguese (majority language) and daddy speaking English (minority language).

        However, in NZ mommy spoke English with our daughter and kept it until now. We’re now facing social pressure and comments from family members who are suggesting that mommy should revert to speaking Portuguese to our daughter.

        Our concern is whether it’s okay for mommy to speak English with our daughter or if we should stick to the OPOL method as before. Our daughter still knows Portuguese very well (better than English), but she seems to enjoy speaking more English lately.

        Talk soon! 🙂

        1. Hugo, many thanks for sharing my work with others!

          To your question, of course, there’s no “right” answer to whether your wife should continue using English with your daughter, but I would also point out that it’s not an all-or-nothing choice, either. If your wife uses both languages, this would no doubt boost the continuing growth of her English side while also enabling her to maintain her bond with your daughter in Portuguese as well as help advance progress in this language, too.

          The two “domains of use” would be based on what’s best for your family, but, for example: your wife could use English when the three of you are together, at home or outside the home, but would use Portuguese when by herself with your daughter or when interacting with other Portuguese speakers. In this version, English serves as the “family language” (at least at this stage of your journey) at those defined times when just the family unit is together and not interacting with others.

          Compared to strict OPOL, this “boosted form” of OPOL—where one parent uses the minority language and the other parent uses both the majority language and the minority language—actually has a substantially higher success rate, according to research conducted by Annick De Houwer (which I describe at length in Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability): 95.42% versus 74.24%. In other words, if your wife uses both languages, to some degree, this will likely strengthen your daughter’s progress in English and would be very unlikely to undercut her development in Portuguese, particularly if she attends Portuguese schools.

          1. Thank you so much for your time replying to this. It makes sense, I’ll discuss this with my wife. 🙂

  3. So happy to have found you page and blogs! I have a 3 month old baby girl! My husband is Japanese and I am English speaking only – whereas he speaks both. We want her to be bilingual and it is important to us. It does have its difficulties as my husband forgets to always speak Japanese lol. But he does speak some to her and I have her listen to the conversations bw him and his mom via FaceTime. My question is – is listening to music in Japanese and tv shows helpful at all?? I wonder if she can pick up on both languages just by being exposed to it by my husband talking it plus the music too? Thanks. I would love to chat more as I feel she is so young still and I want to be set up for success.

    1. Rachel, konnichiwa from Hiroshima! And warm congratulations to you and your husband on the birth of your first child!

      I don’t know the full details of the situation (including your location and how much time your husband can actually spend with your daughter), but the current circumstances you describe really need to be strengthened in various ways in order to get your bilingual journey off to the most promising start possible. Although music and TV can be helpful, for supplemental exposure, the main two things are talking a lot in the target language, and reading a lot out loud. Please don’t underestimate the amount of input that is needed, in these two ways, in order to nurture simultaneous progress in both languages. Otherwise, the development of the majority language will rapidly outpace the development of the minority language and, by the time she begins to actively communicate, she will likely use mostly English. So if active ability in Japanese is important to you, I urge you and your husband to be as proactive as possible about providing her with ample input from Japanese speakers (your husband and others).

      Actually, you’re in a fortunate place, because your daughter is still so small and you can establish effective habits and routines that will help maximize her language development in Japanese. So please make the most of this opportunity to get on a really positive and productive track for your bilingual journey. And I’d be very glad to be a source of support to you in this process: through this blog, through my forum, through my books, and even through Zoom for direct and personal support.

      Again, Rachel, I encourage you to take action so you can get your bilingual journey off to the strongest and most promising start possible. When the odds are against us, because of our conditions (this was true for me, too), we must be as mindful and proactive as we can to reshape those conditions and strengthen the odds of success.

  4. Hello,
    I’m really struggling with my 9 yr old daughter to get her to speak our language, but really what I’m struggling with the most is my husband who yells at her constantly for not speaking it, and punishes her by taking away privileges. To me this is not a good solution and I feel caught in the middle, between my daughter and my husband. I’m completely lost.

    Monika

    1. Monika, I’m very sorry to hear about this situation. It really sounds like an “intervention” is needed in order to address the current challenge of your family’s bilingual journey in more positive and productive ways. As I mention in the article, it’s hard to offer effective guidance without first knowing the full details of the situation. If you’d like to discuss things with me directly, I invite you to email me or, even better, book a free Zoom call. I’d be glad to help you as best I can.

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Welcome to Bilingual Monkeys!

Adam
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 18 and 15. I hope my work can help empower the success of your bilingual journey.

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