Bi-weekly, Bi-lingual – Ni Hao

Obviously, I am a dad, I have a domain name that has the word in it, and my tagline says it too, why is that important? Because I am trying to give the gift/curse of language(s) to my children. I am fluent in English and French and competent in Dutch and German, I thought here’s what I will do, I will pass on the language of French to them, this was much to the ire of my family (who are either monolingual Australians and Brits or Dutch) and even myself if I am honest. It just made the most sense to me because it was a bigger language than Dutch and I spoke it much better. I had never raised bilingual kids before, and experience is one hell of a teacher, but it became evident to me that I was destined to fail. Here’s why I did:

 

  • I was the only parent who was proficient in more than one language.
  • Work and personal circumstances meant I would not have enough time with the child/children.
  • No support network or social contexts where the target language would be dominant, playgroups, relatives etc.
  • Australia is monolingual and does not assist, promote or even condone multilingualism in the home or at school. Argue all you like with this point, but it’s the reality of living in an English speaking country. Learning the days of the week and some greetings half way through primary/grade school does not cut the mustard.
  • The motivation for continued development, e.g. Friends, cool movies/shows and music, education/professional opportunities. English just has way more of this than other languages.

 

If you were expecting an uplifting raise a bilingual child article, you might now be thinking “WTF Polyglot DAD! You are being so negative and making me want to give up.” The good news is that I didn’t give up, well I did, and I didn’t. I had to become more realistic, I adjusted my expectations from bilingual to “interested in” and “aware of” other languages. I explained to my kids that there were many other languages, I read to them in French when I can, teach them words and I put children’s movies and series on that are in French, being mindful not to be too forceful with the language thing. Thinking to myself if I can’t make this thing mandatory I will encourage an interest at the very least. One might even term my approach the “Dora the Explorer” method. My second oldest child is actually quite interested in foreign languages, so this approach is working with him quite well. But as with any great story on an obscure blog, there is a plot twist to rival, nay surpass the “I am your father” moment from “The Empire Strikes Back.” After failed attempts to find French bilingual classes and daycare during my shared custody of the children. I gave up and just continued the measured approach outlined previously, but then a game-changer stared me right in the face. I recently got off at a train station in my city and saw an advertisement for the first bilingual Mandarin/English daycare in said city. It just so happens that I have a daughter who is nearly 3 years old, is not at school yet and already attends daycare so… short story even shorter, my young European Australian daughter is now enrolled in a Chinese bilingual daycare two full days every two weeks, where she will learn Mandarin, thus beginning a new saga. I am not sure how effective it will be, however, going back to the bullet points I wrote way up in the story, this addresses all but one! It seems my hopes to have my children benefit from speaking more than just English have been revitalised. Updates to follow.

Image from Nickelodeon

*No copyright infringement is intended.

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