Raising a Bilingual Child
Good Communication and Planning With Your Spouse
One of the keys to being able to raise bilingual children is strong communication with your spouse. It’s also good to have a clear action plan and make sure that you’re on the same page.
In an earlier post about only speaking English at home I talked about a Japanese wife who had anxiety about her husband only using Japanese with their kids. The situation in itself is absolutely fine. If you have no interest in your children learning English (or another language) and fine with only one, there are no issues at all with both parents speaking Japanese. The mother was feeling anxiety though because she wants her children to speak English as well as Japanese. By the sounds of it, the two parents are definitely not on the same page. Have they ever sat down and talked about their children’s language development? Have they discussed future plans? Who knows, but these are things that parents need to talk about.
I think my wife and I have been pretty good so far with discussing our children’s language learning. After the kids have gone to bed at night we have sat up and talked about what DVDs would be good for our son, which kindergartens would be best and how my wife will use English in the house. We thought about English kindergartens as well as Japanese kindergartens for my son. We’ve decided to send him to a Japanese kindergarten next year and are now thinking about how will reinforce his English once his Japanese language development takes off.
About a year ago, when my son’s Japanese language skills really started to take off I started to feel stress and anxiety. I thought to myself at times, “Man…I wish I was raising him in Canada now.”
Although I am a trained teacher and have read a lot about the topic I couldn’t help myself, but get stressed. I KNOW that we are in Japan so of course he’ll develop Japanese first. I KNOW he uses Japanese all day long so of course it would be his first language. I said to myself, this is all ok. No problem. I said this to myself, but still started to feel anxiety when I saw one language developing more rapidly than the other.
I then talked to my wife about my feelings. She was great. She listened and reassured me that she would also work hard to make sure our son learned as much English as possible. Her reassurance definitely made me feel better. I think that fact that we have been communicating our feelings about teaching our children has helped reduce stress a great deal.
I think some important questions spouses can ask each other if they are in a similar situation are:
What language goals do we want for our kids? (Bilingual, unilingual, trilingual?)
How will we help develop our child’s second language?
Will we be solely responsible for the second language development or send our child to an English-language preschool/kindergarten/international school?
If our child goes to an international school, how will their primary language develop? How will their understanding of Japanese culture (where they live) develop?
If our child goes to an English kindergarten elsewhere, how will they have a chance to make local friends?
English kindergartens tend to have very small class sizes. Will my child lose out on social opportunities and his/her ability to develop social problem solving skills (ones they would develop in a larger class)?
Will I get cable/satellite television so my child has English language television to watch?
Will I buy them English language DVDs? Which ones? (Put some serious thought into this one. It’s easy to choose DVDS that have no educational quality or your kids will have no interest in.)
Will I make my home an English-only environment in the evenings? (Forcing a language on someone may cause him or her to resent it.)
Will studying my child’s first language help me teach him his second language? (Probably yes since you will know what they are saying in their first language and then you can teach them how to say the same thing in their second language).
How can we make language-learning fun?
How and at what age will we start to teach them to read and write? (Speaking and listening comes easily compared to these. Speaking and listening can be learned passively just by being immersed in the language environment whereas reading and writing must be actively taught and reinforced with much practice).
What do we do if at some point our child refuses to use his/her second language? (language rebellion)?
There are many other questions families will find them asking themselves and each other through out their child’s education.
Communication within the family is a key to raising successful language learners. It’s also an important factor in reducing any stress that may arise in the family. It’s extremely important for parents to be on the same page!
You can find me on Twitter: @jlandkev