Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The longterm view


I read an interesting discussion on a bilingualism forum today, about the kind of comments you get when you're talking a language to your child that's different from everyone else in the vicinity.

As the contributors pointed out, comments can either be positive ("you're child is so lucky"), or less-so ("you'll confuse them", "they'll end up behind in both languages", etc).  Anyone who's ever had a child will know the avalanche of unbidden advice you get, but these sort of comments can be particularly grating, as they compound the feeling of loneliness you have when you are the only one in the room speaking differently from everyone else (especially when your child is tiny and can't talk back!).

So why do people who have no experience of plurilingualism and multicultural upbringings feel the need to comment?  I feel that it's another case of adults projecting themselves into the position of the child and really, they're asking the question about themselves : "would I understand someone talking a foreign language to me?". Whereas for children raised with One Parent talking One Language (OPOL), for the child it's NOT a foreign language, it's just part of the landscape of their upbringing, and another way of expressing themselves. There are much more confusing things taught to kids than simultaneous languages (I mean after all, they have nappies on for ages then one day have to learn to sit on a potty...I could see that being tricky to get a young mind around!).

Many of the decisions that we make as (young) parents, or parenting choices that we embark on will not yield results straight away, or in the near future, or even within our lifetime...minding P's and Q's, not talking with our mouths full, not writing on the floors...it's all in the hope that one day it will stick and that our little one will go out into the world better equipped not to choke on a chip.

Similarly for languages, we can choose to talk different languages to our child, but it will one day be up to her what she does with them.  I would hate to think that one day she might drop either of them and choose to assume only one of those identities, but I try to accept that this will be her choice.  All I can do is carry on, talking, reading, singing my language and Monsieur R doing the same.  Regardless of what anyone else thinks.

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