Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Do you wish sometimes that you could turn back the clock? Usually, I am more likely to fret about the future than regret about the past, but there is one thing in my daughter’s first years of life that I wish I could change. That’s what this post is all about.
One parenting mistake I wish I could undo

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I Wish I Spoke My Mother Tongue With My Daughter!

There, I said it. You can quit reading now or you can read the rest of this post :)

Deciding on Raising Your Children Bilingual

Infant ABC
Here is my sweet infant Smarty, so small that she could fit on a pillow. Before she was born, my husband and I discussed what language we will be using with her. My mother tongue is Russian, and my husband’s is German. Both of us came to the United States as adults and over years became fluent in English while retaining our accents. I learned enough German to have a general idea of what the conversation is about when my husband speaks German to someone. My husband speaks no Russian whatsoever. Both of us were late speakers in our native languages, and when Smarty was ready to be born, we were scared. We worried that Smarty will struggle to take in three languages if we both struggled to take one. As a result, we decided that I will speak English with our daughter, and my stay-at-home husband will speak German with her.

Consistency Is a Key

Smarty, however, didn’t inherit our “late talker genes”. My husband was jokes that our daughter had to learn to talk, so he could understand what she wanted. Her first words at the age of about 8 months were in German, and by 15 months she had a decent one word vocabulary both in German and in English. One mistake at that age was that my husband didn’t read her enough in German and he wasn’t consistent with “one parent one child language” (OPOL) . She always loved books, and when I was home, we were reading not one or two, but dozens of English books every day. By 18 months her English exploded into full sentences, and she started to respond in English to her Papa. This is where consistency and commitment was a key, and we “blew it”. It seemed easier to just speak English with her, since she was so talkative in English. From that point her German took a nosedive and now Smarty only knows a handful of phrases in German.

Do Tutors Work?

By the age of 5, my daughter was a confident and fluid reader in English. My parents begged me to teach her Russian. When 2012 rolled in, Smarty said that she wants to learn Russian. I placed an ad on a local Russian site, and found a tutor who seemed wonderful. She was a school teacher, and Smarty liked her OK. However, the teacher went with a “full immersion” approach, and Smarty resisted the fact that suddenly she could not understand a word of what the teacher was saying. We adjusted, but Smarty’s enthusiasm was lost. Yes, in 2 months she was reading in Russian. I could understand her reading perfectly well. She, however, had no idea what it is that she was reading – she was simply successfully decoding those foreign characters into equally foreign sounds. A summer visit to my parents showed that her Russian was not going anywhere – the only phrase that she mastered really well was the phrase she had to use a lot with my Mom – the phrase, I want to do it myself!
Why did this tutor not work out? I think it was because Smarty was not having a language-rich environment – books, movies, and, most importantly, age peers who would speak the same language. She didn’t need to apply her knowledge with me – she knew that I understand her perfectly well in English, and so the words of Russian language were leaving her almost as quickly as they were introduced to her by her tutor.

Was It Possible to Raise a Bilingual Child in Our Situation?

Snow-Trip When Smarty was born, we didn’t have any couples in our circle of friends that would not share the same language and were raising bilingual children. Then, a few years later, our best friends had their son. F’s Mom speaks only German to him, and his Dad speaks only Swedish. They speak English to each other. Little F. is now almost 4, and he goes to an English-language preschool. He is very social, he is able to switch easily between languages while talking to his parents, and he speaks English with Smarty and other people who don’t speak German or Swedish. It’s actually quite amazing to see this little person accomplishing something that is beyond reach for most adults. Watching F made me regret not giving the same gift of languages to Smarty that our friends had given to their son. Please – if you have this gift to give, do not throw it away. Your children might not appreciate it when they are young, but they will certainly thank you when they are older and are able to speak more than one language with ease.

How To Overcome Barriers In Raising Bilingual Children?

7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child I strongly recommend 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child by Naomi Steiner. There is a lot of practical advice in her book on raising bilingual kids. My blogging friend Ana Flores also published a book about raising bilingual kids – Bilingual Is Better, but I haven’t read it. Instead I enjoyed her top 10 Tips to Successfully Raise a Bilingual Child on Babble. In my mind the most important thing you can do to raise a bilingual child is to commit to it as a family and create an environment that would be as language-rich in the minority language as it is in the primary language.
Why raising bilingual children is hard and how to overcome the barriers to dual language

Your Turn?

Is there a parenting “miss” that you wish you could undo?

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min said...

Having done research and attempting for bilingualism, I can attest to how challenging it can be! Early on, we had to decide what level of language acquisition we were happy with as a family and it wasn't complete immersion. Given that, there are benefits of introducing languages at any age! It opens doors to awareness of cultures, different ways of seeing the world, and even identity. I wouldn't write off exposing her to German and Russian just yet. Every bit she gains she learns as a child, the easier it will be when she wants to learn a language as an adult. Think of it as "priming". And consistency and perserverance helps! Just think about how you were able to learn English as an adult. Smarty can pick up any language if the desire or need is there.

Ticia said...

No regrets as major as that one, mine are mainly the small things of snapping when I should have been patient or things like that.

Christy McGuire said...

She may pick it up later. Sometimes motivation is a bigger deal than we realize.

I think it is wonderful for you to pass this advice on for other parents who are struggling. Raising bilingual kids does not look easy!

Dual Learning Home Educator said...

I have heard that one before so many times! As an ex-dual language teacher in public schools, and current Spanish teacher in a private school, I hear so many parents regret the fact that their children are not speaking their mother's or father's tongue. First let me tell you that it is never too late. Like Christy said, motivation plays a very important roll. I had a 90 year old student once. She was going to travel to Spain and she wanted to learn Spanish! At the same time, I do want to say that the earlier you do it, the better it is for your daughter in terms of acquiring a native-like accent.
I am raisin my kids bilingually because I see the benefit for them, and like you said, it is my gift to give to them.

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

Smarty has still benefitted from living in a bilingual household in that she grew up hearing native speakers. She can still learn later, and will have a better accent from living with you and your husband.

Anonymous said...

Mine are bilingual Russian-English, but it wasn't and isn't easy, it requires a lot of sacrifice and work for parents and kids alike. Even if Smarty hasn't got it now, she might pick it up later and she's lucky to have native speakers to practice with right there beside her. For us besides books and formal lessons I give them, grandparents proved to be a key. They don't speak English, so kids have to speak Russian to them.

When it comes to regrets, I think the biggest one I have so far is not always being patient with them, rushing them in times. Looking back now I feel that so many moments spent in a hurry could have been so precious.