Nowadays, my little boy has finally reached the point where he comfortably converses in both English and Greek. I feel so proud every time he realized and switches to the appropriate language. It is something we have both worked on but to see it becoming a reality is just amazing! The truth is that the hardest part isn’t the teaching but the socializing. Friends and family will express their opinions and just like with every other comment or advise you need to filter it before taking it seriously. Sometimes you just need to believe strongly on what you do to not let it upset you.
Below are some of the things that we have heard and were not helpful at all. I am recording them for the friends of multilingual families in hope that they will get a better insight into our world.
1) I know someone who is trilingual. And if you are a trilingual family it’s more than likely that they will say “I know someone that is quarter lingual”. It’s like you having two children and someone with no children saying to you “I know someone with three”. It makes no sense, adds nothing to the conversation and even more so it shows that you are ignorant of the situation but too arrogant not to keep you mouth shut.
2) “what you should do to raise multilingual children is one parent one language”. Really?! Tell me about it! How did you find the experience? What was that? You ve never done it? Apart from the fact that this “amazing” advise usually comes from the same people in point (1), its also not true. It is not the only way to raise multilingual kids, there are other ways too, all have been proven successful and it comes down to what suits the family best. Choosing which path to go with is actually one of the difficulties a multilingual family has so you coming along with your magazine advise or just because this is what you chose for your family, it really doesn’t mean its the right thing to do and will definitely not score brawny points in our friendship.
3) “Your kid doesn’t really need the minority language. Everyone speaks English nowadays.” And with that little statement you think you have managed to wipe away thousand of years of civilization, part of which, is the language, and have made an executive decision for future generations? It is true, however, that my boy could go on with his English and none of the Greek as I know a lot of Londoners coming from a non UK background have done so because that’s what the educational system fifty years ago was saying to them. Half a century later, though, we know for a fact that bilingualism has only great benefits to give to the brain but also and most importantly, it creates adults that are far more open minded towards other people and cultures.
4) “I am sorry little Max but Alexandros doesn’t understand you because he is multilingual”. That used to upset me and fill me with anger! A lot of the times it was just said in private by mums and the result was that their children would either ignore mine or just completely patronize him (that’s what gave away that mummy or daddy have had a chat). Firstly, who says that he/she doesn’t understand? On the contrary! Even the adult bilingual I know that have been exposed extremely little to their minority language, can understand most of what is said! Even more so my boy that hears the minority language daily! The fact that there may be difficulty in expressing themselves, or that they are trying not to embarrass you that only speak the one language and would more than likely not understand what he/she are saying, it doesn’t mean they don’t understand! Do your kids a favor and find the opportunity to teach them how to be patient as not everyone is the same and that doesn’t make them either stupid or vulnerable. On the contrary, my dear, these kids will find it so much easier in school than any other monolingual child, it will make you fume!
5) “Why are you kicking up a fuss? He/she will learn it from you”. In simple terms no, he will not learn it. If the language is only spoken by me to friends and family or even with couples that between them they speak the minority language it will not pass on to the children automatically. That’s a fact. Language is not an inherited charisma. Language is always changing and evolving and you need to practice practice practice. They need to be addressed in the language and mostly, be encouraged to use it as much as possible. So, when I ask him to repeat something in Greek, I am neither showing off or torturing him. I am asking to practice what he knows.
6) “that poor boy…” I am really tempted to use my humor on this occasion and say something like “he loves it really, he prefers it than being locked under the stairs”. The fact of the matter is that children grow up with the two languages as a normal part of their life. Although the brain stimulation is more variable because of the two language, they don’t find it hard. On the contrary, parents will probably spent more time with them knowing they are the only/main source of the minority language. And guess what? Kids love spending time with their parents! (at least at this age!).
7) “My boy is much more chatty than yours. It must be because yours is bilingual”. This is a mistake that even I have made. Though the past few years, I have been comparing my son with other kids. The fact of the matter is that every child is different. Each with their own speed of development and with completely different ways. Add his own personality in the mix and you will find huge differences in children. For example, my boy is very proud. I have known this since he was a baby. What that means is he doesn’t take it well at all when he makes mistakes so when he says or does something, he wants to be confided he can do it. Mistakes upset him! It doesn’t mean he won’t do it. It means he ll do when he frustratingly enough for mummy- decides to do so. What they say about bilingual kids talking later than monolingual is just a myth.