When I decided to teach the oldest child a second language from such a young age, I was met with some opposition and doubts from several parties. And yet, I knew that I wanted her to be bilingual primarily because I knew the benefits of being one. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy journey, but generally anything that is worth doing is never easy. I was prepared to do what I felt in my heart was right because I knew it was the best thing for her future.
It is unfortunate that I encountered some negativity from people just for wanting to teach my child a second language. Just for wanting her to have a more open mind and the enhanced ability to communicate with more groups of people brought about some resistance, it goes to show how closed minded some people can be. It also is a testament to part of the culture and how they were raised.
Below, I will list a few statements that I was told — and then I will explain what I did to combat it.
1–It will delay her speech.
When I first did my research on teaching kids a second language at such an early age, I read that it can delay speech but only in the short term. Yes, it is true that young children who learn two or more languages simultaneously do start expressing themselves orally later than their peers. I feel that this is because these children have more words that they have to process than a monolingual child. They are making connections between not just the words, but how each of these words belong in sentence form and also connecting each word with its language. That’s a lot.
So, while it may take the child longer to learn, it is definitely only in the short term. By the time the child is three or four, he or she would have caught up with his or her peers. By the time the child is old enough, he or she will be able to communicate with complete sentences. What’s more, they can say the same sentence in more than one language. That’s pretty cool.
So, if anyone tells you that it will delay your child’s speech, or that they will never learn, just tell them that they will catch up. They will catch up fast because kids’ brains are amazing, resilient, and capable of much more than even we realize. Never underestimate a young child’s brain.
2–People will assume that you are a foreigner.
Believe it or not, I’ve actually been told this. Believe it or not, sometimes I get weird looks from people when I speak to my child in another language in public. Of course, those looks can mean anything. We should never assume. The looks could signify a racist thought, or it could simply signify curiosity. But talking to someone in another language, especially in the south, is something different. It will absolutely bring about stares and looks. It may even alienate you, though it shouldn’t.
I think the best way to combat this is to just smile at them. And always remember that it is best for your child to see you speaking normally and confidently in public. If you only choose to speak that language in the privacy of your home, then your child will start to associate that language with shame. Associations with shame will only bring about embarrassment and a certain reluctance to use that language. Never be ashamed of speaking another language. It is always a blessing, and never a curse.
3–She won’t be able to understand me.
I think this is a common complaint particularly when there is one or two members in a family who is monolingual. While this can pose a challenge in the beginning, it can be overcome. I would recommend that you think of it as a learning opportunity. Learn that new language with the child. Also, remember that language is not just about the words that come out of your mouth. Language is about body language, gestures, and facial expressions. There are a multitude of ways to express yourself.
If you can’t understand what the child is saying, you can most certainly hazard a guess just by using other methods of communication. Be patient, point at things, sound out the words, and ask questions. Also, realize that the child probably knows more than you realize. Never underestimate a child’s ability to learn and to communicate.
4–It’s not a useful language.
I’ve also been told this regarding the language that I taught my daughter. I don’t think any language is not useful. All languages are useful and equally valuable. All languages are worth learning because it helps to open your mind to another culture. So, if anyone ever tells you this, simply tell them that they are wrong. Tell them that language is not just the words. Language is a connection to the culture. Language is how you express yourself. It doesn’t matter if 75 million people or just one hundred people can speak it. It is language and every language is useful. Every language is deserving of life.
Overall, I think teaching your child a second language is the best thing that you can do as a parent. Teaching a child a second language is a gift and a privilege that not everyone gets to have. When a child is bilingual or multilingual, then their entire world opens up with possibilities. Suddenly, they realize that they are capable of so much. They are capable of connecting with twice as many people than the average monolingual child. They are capable of expressing empathy towards others. They are capable of learning more and passing on their knowledge to others. They are capable of so much because they are the future.
When you teach a child to be bilingual, then you give them the world. Never be afraid to teach your child to be bilingual just because of what some naysayers have told you. Just be patient, stay focused, and trust the process.
What has your experience been like when trying to learn another language? Have you ever faced opposition from people? Why do you think that is?