Note: This post originally appeared at SpanglishBaby. Though the site is no longer being maintained, friendly founders Ana and Roxana now look after a large and lively community at the SpanglishBaby Facebook page. Their work is a highly recommended resource, particularly if Spanish is your minority language.
Imagine we could survey every bilingual adult in the world and ask them two questions.
Question #1: Do you regret becoming bilingual?
What do you think the response would be?
Of course, it wouldn’t be unusual for people to mention how hard it was, at times, during childhood: keeping up with two languages, perhaps with twice the homework; suffering episodes of embarrassment when speaking the minority language in public; and enduring other difficulties. A few of the respondents, it’s true, might even answer, “Yes, I regret it. It was just too much trouble.”
But my guess is that the percentage of people responding “No, I don’t regret becoming bilingual” would be very, very high. Despite those struggles of childhood, I bet it would be well over 99%.
Question #2: If you hadn’t become bilingual, is it something you would have regretted?
If we then turned the question around and asked people to imagine how they would feel if they hadn’t become bilingual, what sort of response would you expect? Though there might be a handful who express no regret, wouldn’t most people feel just the opposite? Wouldn’t most people, over 99% once again, express real regret at not becoming bilingual?
Here’s my point: Your gurgling baby, or your growing child, may not be aware of this yet, but they want to be bilingual! And they will regret it if they don’t become bilingual! That’s the truth, and you have to keep that fact in mind throughout your bilingual journey together.
It’s particularly important to remember this during those tougher times, like when your child seems to rebel and refuses to speak the minority language with you. When these difficulties arise, it’s natural to feel discouraged, but you can’t let yourself get trapped in that moment. You have to think bigger than the resistance at hand.
Tell yourself: “Yes, my child, I know it’s hard sometimes. But I also know that deep down, in the adult that lies within you, you really do want to be bilingual and you would regret it one day if you weren’t. So I will continue to support the development of your minority language with all the patience and persistence and perseverance that this tired old parent can manage.”
And you go on. And you do the best you can, day after day, while you have the chance. Because, finally, you know you’re not the only one who wants your child to be bilingual.
Your child wants to be bilingual, too.
This is so true! My parents sadly chose not to bring me and my two siblings up bilingual, (Danish-English), and it has been a source of regret and embarrassment for me ever since. I remind myself of that any time I am struggling to find enough time/energy for my daughter’s bilingual development.
Tove, I’m sure your daughter will one day be very grateful for all the efforts you’re making! Let’s keep plodding forward, one small step at a time!
I believe they want to be bilingual, that’s why I keep insisting on it, even when things get rough. One day at a time, one step at a time, we are getting there.
That’s exactly right, Ana Lynn. It’s a long journey and the ground can only be covered step by step, day after day. As I stress in The Dark Secret to Success at Raising Bilingual Kids…
Good bilingual ability is the result of persistent efforts that add up gradually over time.