You need three things to raise a bilingual child.
First, you need guidelines. Information and advice grounded on research and real-world experience should serve as the foundation for your bilingual journey. The better informed you are, the better equipped you’ll be to create an effective plan for your particular set of circumstances.
Most books on raising bilingual children naturally focus on offering guidelines.
Second, you need practical ideas. Knowledge of general guidelines is vital, but they can’t really be implemented successfully without concrete ideas that you can draw on daily to advance your child’s language development. These ideas involve not only strategies for nurturing language ability, they include awareness of suitable resources for supporting your minority language.
Most books on raising bilingual children have a limited amount of information when it comes to practical ideas.
And the third thing you need is something that I’ve rarely encountered in a book on raising bilingual children. In fact, it’s rarely discussed directly elsewhere, either, whether in blogs or in conversation. And this is odd, really, because to succeed at raising a bilingual child this third thing is absolutely essential.
What is it?
It’s what this resource is all about: spirit.
Think about it. You can be the most knowledgeable person in the world when it comes to guidelines and practical ideas, but if you don’t possess sufficient spirit to carry them out, to see them through, you simply can’t succeed to the degree you hope.
The reason spirit is so enormously important is because raising a bilingual child is a large, long-term effort (in many cases, 18 years, from birth to college!) which demands daily attention and action. In the face of frustrations involving the child’s language development, and the other challenges of life that will naturally occur throughout this time, you must continue to step forward, day after day, with your greater goal in mind.
Like a marathon runner, you may have terrific talent, and technique, but without a deep well of heart, of spirit, you will eventually tire and your efforts will weaken. A sagging spirit not only will prevent you from covering the distance you had originally dreamed, it puts you at risk of abandoning the entire bilingual journey itself.
But fuel your quest with a passionate and unstoppable spirit, and you will address every frustration, every challenge, as effectively as you can while sustaining the positive and playful energy that will carry you and your child a long, long way over the coming days, weeks, months, and years.
In the end, you see, the bilingual journey is a journey as much about a parent’s spirit as it is about a child’s language. The challenges of raising a bilingual child can serve to test and deepen a range of important qualities within us, things like perspective, attitude, effort, creative thinking, and perseverance. I realize this is true of any parent, to some extent, but it’s especially the case for parents faced with supporting the minority language under difficult conditions.
At Bilingual Monkeys, I try to address all three of these vital needs: guidelines, practical ideas, and spirit. Instant Inspiration for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids is a resource designed to fortify your spirit and inspire you to keep giving your best effort, each day of your bilingual journey. In doing so, not only are you nurturing your children’s language development more effectively, you’re strengthening these qualities of spirit within your own mind and heart.
The truth is, the process of raising bilingual kids is actually a kind of “intensive training” for our spirit. When we handle the challenges as best we can, we become stronger parents.
We even become stronger human beings.
Yeah I agree spirit is important. I call it something else, stubbornness. Or as the Japanese say “ganko.” And also being able to swallow your own pride. Being able to speak the majority language makes you feel great because you get attention, you feel special. If you want bilingual kids you have to swallow that pride and only speak to them in the minority language no matter what. Of course there is a lot more to it but from my experience and observations of others that haven’t succeeded, spirit and willingness to succeed at any cost (success meaning raising bilingual kids) is the most important.
I agree, Cameron. It’s a question of priority, really, since in many cases it’s difficult to do both: speaking the majority language freely can interfere with the goal of nurturing active ability in the minority language. It’s true, my Japanese level has declined since my children were born, but this is a sacrifice I’m willing to make to promote their ability in English.
I couldn’t agree with you more, Adam – I noticed the same when I was reading through all the literature I could find on the topic. It doesn’t matter how much you know if you haven’t got the oomph and the belief in yourself and your kids to go through with bringing up bilingual children. This is why I included sections on Confidence and Commitment in my upcoming book.
Rita, yes, these three things—guidelines, practical ideas, and spirit—are the wheels of the tricycle you must ride toward your bilingual destination. If any one of the wheels wobbles badly, or falls off your tricycle, you probably won’t get as far as you hope. You need all three wheels to make the journey!
I wonder if having the right environment isn’t an important factor? To surround the child in an environment where bilingualism is the norm, and to provide a steady dose of motivations and encouragements. Also, I think parents need a lot of help too, no?
Dana, thanks for your comment. I certainly agree; to me, these aspects are found under the wide umbrella of “guidelines.”
Because this can be a tough and lonely journey, the available support may make or break a parent’s success. These posts attempt to address this important issue…
When You Feel a Lack of Support for Your Bilingual Journey from the People Around You
You Are Not Alone