If you have read the Part I, you know where we are at when it comes to foreign languages.
Now to WANT to raise you kid with two or more languages and actually DOING IT are two different things. The truth is you don’t need to even know or speak a foreign language to do it, but it’s an awful lot of work.
My husband and I have the advantage of me speaking Russian natively and both of us having a basic to intermediate knowledge of Spanish. So here’s our “optimistic, but possibly unrealistic” plan
We would like to introduce 3 languages from before birth: English, Spanish, Russian. We’ll be attempting to use the OPOL method ( One parent One language) + Spanish on the weekends (not sure how we’re going to pull off this part).
This method will give her a perfect native knowledge of both Russian and English with a nice base in Spanish ( being able to speak some and understand all).
There are plenty of reasons for why raise your children with more than 1 language, from the fact that learning two languages from birth wires your brain in a different way giving cognitive, problem solving and multitasking advantages, to higher IQ, easier time with learning in general, highly developed executive function of the brain, to something as intangible as better cultural understanding and world view, as well as a future leg up in the job market (the least of my concerns). Aside from the developmental benefits, there’s also the family aspect. I do want her to know her Russian side of the family and spend a few summers there which would be impossible without a working knowledge of Russian. And then there’s the good old linguistic benefit of knowing more than one languages ( anyone who speaks at least two languages knows exactly what I am talking about).
But as much as I think a bi-/multi-lingual upbringing is a total MUST, I have my own reservations.
So before I go into that, I’d like to mention a few myths that most people have about bilingual kids to get these misconceptions out of the way ( I read about these in 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child) .
Myth #1: Bi-/multi-lingual kids will confuse languages or won’t become proficient in either one
NOT TRUE: Mixing two languages is a part of learning a language. So yes, in the beginning there will be some mixing. Just like any adult, who is learning two or more languages will mix them up from time to time. That will correct itself as kids become better speakers in general. Kids can learn up to 4 languages at a time without any long term confusion.
Myth #2: Bi-/multi-lingual kids have delayed speech development
NOT TRUE: Sometimes bi-lingual children start talking later but it is simply a temporary language delay. Because multilingual kids are learning the same words in two or more languages, they actually end up with a bigger vocabulary.
Myth #3: You have to be fluent in a language to raise your child bilingual.
NOT TRUE: All that’s required for a bilingual upbringing is time commitment. A lot of parents learn the language as they go while teaching their newborn. They become fluent just as their kid becomes fluent ( I am sort of hoping the same will happen with Andrew and Russian)
Myth #4: Children can learn passively by just hearing the language or watching TV in that language.
NOT TRUE: Yes, if the child hears the language constantly spoken at home, he’ll become good at understanding it, but not speaking. However, in order to have a native knowledge of the language you have to engage the child constantly.
So here’s why I am not all GAGA over pulling off the whole multi-lingual upbringing:
In the 9 years that I’ve lived in the US, I have spoken exclusively English. I was never the person to seek out “my people” ( i.e. my nationality). Whenever I’d accidentally stumble into another person who spoke Russian and we’d click, we both would feel more comfortable speaking English than Russian. So while I have a lot of Russian friends, our language is always English. My only point of Russian contact and practice is my mom. We talk almost daily via Skype, but somehow that has not been enough for me to slow down the inevitable loss of whatever Russian I had. Don’t get me wrong- I’m a native speaker, and I will never NOT be able to speak Russian. However the ability to properly express myself, find the right words, especially in contexts that I was relatively inept at back when I lived in Russia ( which is everything from computers to business to adult emotions and anything I deal with on daily basis that I didn’t, as a barely 18 year old in Russia) can only be retained with constant practice. I speak Russian like a native (maybe with a slight accent at times), but a native who slightly mispronounces certain words and does a lot of “ummm….”, “ehhhh”, “whatchamacallit…” in the middle of the sentence. Sometimes I get so frustrated I just use English words and to heck with whoever can’t understand me. The bottom line is I am completely uncomfortable speaking Russian simply because I can’t always fully express myself and it’s just a lot of hard work. I also don’t enjoy reading russian books or watching movies or articles – at this point I have a much better comprehension if I do that in English, which is what I’ve been doing for years.
So that being said, in order for us to do the whole multilingual thing 100% RIGHT, we need to practice OPOL, one parent one language technique. Guess where that leaves me? That’s right- speaking EXCLUSIVELY RUSSIAN to Alexis! FOREVER! Do you know how much that prospect bothers me? English is the languages of emotions and feelings for me. That means: I “feel” in English. So in order for me to express my feelings, my love for Alexis, I HAVE to speak English. Anything said in Russian carries no emotional weight. I can say I love you, I can attempt to use baby talk but to me they are simply words that carry no feeling. How do you think it feels to be communicating with your unborn child in words that mean nothing to you?
My hope is that it would change if I just get more practice speaking Russian on daily basis, but for right now I am extremely uncomfortable expressing myself in it. And I admit, it’s something I need to work on mentally. But trying to imagine my whole life with Alexis speaking ONLY the “other” language- that just doesn’t sit well with me.
I know I am going to get over myself and do it anyways, because I just can’t justify ignoring the benefits when I have the tools to give them to her.
How can I say no to that simply because I am “uncomfortable” or it’s a lot of work for me (boo-hoo)?
So since the language predisposition starts before birth (I remember reading that in “Brain rules for baby“, my all-time favorite parenting book), I’ve been doing my best to speak to Alexis in Russian. It hasn’t been going too good. I keep switching to English because that’s how I express my feelings and at this stage it’s all about feelings. When I force myself back to Russian, I literally freeze because I don’t know what to say without sounding completely stupid. I don’t have as many problems reading Russian books to her, because , well, it’s scripted- you just read.
Some might suggest that we do not do OPOL, but have me speak both languages to her, while my husband speaks Spanish and English, but according to the books it’s a less effective method and due to the brain’s ability to always take the easier route, as soon as our little girl isn’t so little any more, she will start refusing to speak the “harder” language ( i.e. not the primary language,English) and because she knows we can do both, she’ll always opt for English. Plus it honestly just feels like a cop-out.
I am hoping that once she arrives and I force myself to speak exclusively Russian to her from the beginning with my mom being here and giving me even more Russian exposure, I will become more comfortable with that arrangement, however right now I feel I am doing a terrible job preparing her for Russian and that makes me sad.
Now Spanish is a bit of a different story. It’s a foreign language to both of us, a language that we don’t know that well, so there isn’t as much pressure to do it perfectly. However it is something I want for her. Living in Florida it’s going to be beneficial to, at least, have some sort of base. Spanish will never be her native language ( I doubt we can pull off the time commitment required for that), however she will be THAT far ahead on the “foreign language skills” front when she starts school ( and we better find a school that introduces languages early on). And from my own experience, learning one foreign language is a huge step forward, because all languages from that point on are easy-peasy. I am also hoping to take her to certain Spanish speaking playgroups from the beginning, and if we get a baby sitter, it’ll probably have to be a Spanish speaker. Not sure how well this plan will translate into reality, but I want to try.
So I guess what I am looking for is a little encouragement, because I am a sort of overwhelmed by the prospect of doing it all.
Maybe someone who had the same problem as me, but found it much easier than they originally thought…?
Or someone who thinks it’s worth it even though it’s going to take a lot of effort and work from me, beyond the usual baby mothering…
Also question to current parents raising bi-lingual kids:
1. How do you deal with speaking the language your spouse doesn’t understand? Do you speak the main language when they’re around or do you continue using “your language” even though they don’t understand what it is you’re saying to the kid? That seems like a lot of missed communication between the family as a whole.
Any experience that you have to share, please do! Is it rewarding, is it harder than you thought, is it easier, is it fun, what works , what doesn’t? I am interested in any input you might have.
Also, 3 more days left in this week’s Pregnant With Style project, don’t forget to enter.
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