Monday, 12 July 2021

Bilingual parenting: How Can I stick to my language consistently

Regular readers of this blog might have started to spot a pattern: It's not as easy as I would have thought.

Picture the scene: You've left your home country years ago, started a career, made friends, found love, and started a family. All that in a foreign language. First, it was probably quite hard to conduct your routine in your language. But then little by little it got easier until it became second nature. Congratulations - you achieved proficiency, perhaps even bilingualism.🎆

 It's only natural that you want to pass this super power on to your greatest achievements: your kids. It'll be easy, you'll just speak to them in your mother tongue and let your spouse or partner and the community sort out the rest. Chances are that if you are reading this blog, you already know that bilingual parenting isn't nearly as straight forward as it sounds.

One theme that runs through conversations with parents in this situation is guilt.When I met with Dorit a mum of a 7-year-old boy, she sums it up rather harshly as: "We actually failed completely." Her story mirror a lot of my clients. Her family is a set up of three languages. Dorit is a native German speaker, her husband's background is Hebrew, their family language is English. 

Guilt: a constant companion when it comes to parenting, is especially strong in multilingual families where one of the family languages is falling short. Feeling guilty is easy, but never solves the problem at hand. Yes, it would have been better, if you had spoken in your target language from the birth of your child, and it is precisely the advise I would give to new parents. But you are not a new parent, but with a little work, planning and structure you can still make a positive change.

When should I start?
NOW. It will be easier to get your child onboard the younger they are. So start now. There is no such thing as an ideal moment, so you might as well start now.

That was easy, so let's tackle the hard part.

Bilingual parenting
Quality time: the key to success for bilingual parenting.

Where do I start?
Facebook groups and bilingual parenting can be helpful resources, but one piece of advice that gets trotted out with an alarming regularity is this: "Just speak to your kid in German." Let's be honest, if it was this easy you wouldn't be here. 

The secret, like with starting most good habits, is consistency and realistic goals. If your kids are old enough (I put it around 4 years old), the first active step should be a conversation with your child(ren).

In an age appropriate way, tell them what you are going to do (introduce more German), and why. The why is an interesting one, some of your reasons might be perfectly valid, but won't mean a thing to your preschooler. So keep it relevant: the kids will  able to grasp speaking to Oma and Opa (...), being able to watch this cool programme that is only available in German (honest 😉) and having a secret language, but might struggle with the concept of studying abroad and improved career prospects. If your child is generally on board with introducing in German (consider yourself very lucky), you could even set goals for everyone.
In the far more likely scenario that they are somewhere on the spectrum of indifference, reluctance, and resistance, treat this conversation more like letting them know about what you are going to do. Remember, the first rule of introducing an additional language is DO NOT SPRING RANDOM TARGET LANGUAGE ON YOUR KIDS. This is stressful, especially if your kids are a little older. The aim is a fun family project, rather than entering a battle of wills.
Next, set achievable goals: start with one or two weekly sessions; and these should be as relaxed and free from stress as possible: a dedicated playtime, a trip to the park or a relaxed (!) weekend dinner, bath time or whenever your family is at their most happy and least stressed. Quality is way more important than quantity. If you can get your kids to associate German with quality time, you've won half the battle. It helps to plan for something that requires some level  of conversation. Board games provide a fun excuse, some basic stock phrases to get you started. Another starting point is cooking or some exiting arts and craft. There is a fun activity, child friendly instructions provide a visual anchor, so even if you slip into English there is an easy prompt back into German.


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