#IMLD: Whole-family support for (very minor) minority languages

As a parent who is tasked with helping my children develop three high-status languages, I am acutely aware that even though I find my task difficult sometimes, there are parents who have to work much harder on their bilingual-family journey. These are the parents who speak a minority language with their children, one that has cultural and linguistic importance to them, but is not highly-regarded in the world in which they live. These parents have such a daunting task – many of them are the only person to speak their language to the children, and often resources such as books, television, websites etc. are difficult to impossible to find. To those parents, my hat goes off, and I offer you the below post (reposted for the #IMLD campaign) on supporting minority languages at home.


Last night I had the pleasure of spending the evening with a very diverse group of parents. All of them had children who will grow up with two languages, and many had children growing up with three or more languages. A few of the families are lucky enough to have multilingual partners, who speak each other’s languages and can use a variety of bilingual strategies. However, most bilingual families, mine included, have parents who share one common language, but do not master the language of their partner. In a lot of these situations, each parent speaks his/her language to the child, and together they speak English. This dynamic makes it trickier to support a minority language, because it can be used only by one parent.
Last night there were several parents who are transmitting to their children minority languages with small numbers of speakers. The hard task in front of these parents is not only how to provide enough language input for the children to acquire the language, but they also have to try and support the status of the language, so the children will want to speak it. The question then is what tools and techniques can parents use to promote the acquisition and use of a language which seems insignificant in a child’s world. Without visible institutional and community support (TV, school classes, community groups) it can be a daunting task.
One of the most valuable sources of support comes from within families. Having the dominant-language partner involve themselves in the process of supporting the minority language sends a powerful message to the children about language status and language usefulness. For example, if the mother is the only Polish speaker (Hi Olga!), the father may not be able to learn to speak Polish fluently (no time, aptitude, desire or other), but he can certainly enter into the discussion about why Polish is useful and a good thing to learn. He can also learn a few words of Polish – either from his wife or from the children – to engage in some some small way with the minority language. Even if it’s just learning how to say “I love you” and “good night”, it’s a visible and tangible reminder of the place of Polish in family life, and that Polish is valued by both parents.
So, if you are a family with a very minor minority language, consider how your actions may be helping or hindering the place of that language in your children’s eyes and think about what steps you can take to create a home in which all languages are valued and supported.

#IMLD: Top 5 (now 6) Reasons to Choose Bilingualism for your Child v2.0

Hire more multilingual employees, because these employees can communicate better, have better intercultural sensitivity, are better at co-operating, negotiating, compromising. But they can also think more efficiently.

Antonella Sorace

Every once in a while I meet someone who makes me consider this point again. It’s usually (as it was this time) someone who says to me that they aren’t bothering to have their children learn another language, because there is “no point because they speak English already”. I’m always a bit taken aback by these statements, and my mind and mouth get bogged down in “but, but, but!’. And then, after the conversation is over, I have what the French call “l’esprit d’escalier” (translates to spirit of the staircase – when you find the great come back just as someone is walking away…) and think of *exactly* what I should have said. So I’m going to use this space today to put my best arguments down “on paper” so I will remember them next time, and hopefully it will be useful to you too. I’m going to put a link in each point, not to a dry academic textbook for you to buy, but to an internet article (from a reputable source) that talks about the point I am making.

1. Bilingual kids are better at math! Really, they are… so if you have ever wished you were better at math (put your hands up!) this is a way to help out your kids. Bilingual kids are better at math and logic, because they are good at processing and analysing, and they have an earlier development of abstract thought. Check out this and other facts in the article Raising a bilingual child.

2. Bilingual kids develop better working memory. Another true fact – being bilingual improves how your brain deals with and stores information. Read about it here: Bilingual Children have a better working memory than monolingual children.

3. Bilingual kids are great communicators. The experience of becoming bilingual helps kids understand the communicative act in a deeper way, and also understand that people can be different, via language, and yet the same.
I can’t link directly to the article as it is a subscription site, but here is a quote from The Multilingual Dividend: Antonella Sorace (Bilingualism Matters) says:
“Hire more multilingual employees, because these employees can communicate better, have better intercultural sensitivity, are better at co-operating, negotiating, compromising. But they can also think more efficiently.”

4. Bilingualism is good exercise for your brain. In fact, it’s so good for your brain that bilinguals show a delayed onset of age-related memory diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Read about it here: The Bilingual Advantage. And it makes us better at multitasking…

5. Bilingualism is a hot commodity on the job market. These quotes are from the same Financial Times article I linked to in #3:
“Multilingualism will be better valued and better leveraged by companies,” says Laurence Monnery, co-head of global diversity and inclusion at Egon Zehnder, the executive search company. “Multiculturalism makes bet­ter leaders.”

“Do multilinguals make better managers?” asks Ann Francke, chief executive of the UK’s Chartered Management Institute. “Probably the answer to that question is yes.”

6. I’m adding #6 for Language Stars as they suggested it based on my last post and I think that it refers well to #3 and #5:

Because it helps children become Global Citizens

I rest my case.

I am re-posting this edited post in support of the MLK International Mother Language Day campaign – please feel free to share using the #IMLD tag!

#IMLD: Top 5 Reasons to Choose Bilingualism for your Child

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

– Ludwig Wittgenstein

One of the main reasons I started doing seminars for parents was the lack of information among many monolinguals in our community about the benefits of bilingualism. In the expat world, we meet many, many bilingual families, but there are also a lot of families who are strictly monolingual (let’s be honest, they are mostly English-speaking families…). The bottom line is that bilingualism is beneficial to almost all children, so I’d like to give a little run-down of the Top 5 reasons monolinguals should consider using a language in their environment to promote bilingualism for their children.

Reason 1: The experience of acquiring a second language has great knock-on effects for children. Studies have looked at areas as far-ranging as maths and creativity, and found that either bilinguals come out ahead of monolinguals, or they are the same – no negative effects from properly introduced bilingualism.

Reason 2: Learning another language makes you more empathetic to others who are struggling to speak your language. And we can all use a little more empathy in our world.

Reason 3: Especially for expats: Having your kids learn some (or a lot) of the local language helps them feel more at home in the place they live, and they can take a little bit of it with them when you move on.

Reason 4: Acquiring a additional language at a young age (any language!) has the potential to turn your kids into better learners of other languages later on in life.

Reason 5: New research has found that active bilinguals do better in terms of aging – on average, they develop age-related memory diseases (Alzheimer’s) up to five years later than monolinguals.  Managing more than one language is gymnastics for the brain, and keeps it healthy longer.

I am reposting this in support of the “International Mother Language Day 2015” campaign – if you’d like to share you bilingualism success story please email me.

International Mother Language Day 2015 – #IMLD campaign

Join us in celebrating all our languages with a month of events/posts/ promotions leading up to “International Mother Language Day” on February 21, 2015 (Fathers, your language is included too!). Onraisingbilingualchildren will have special posts on February 12 and 19 on supporting Mother Tongue at home and at school.

Please share links using the #IMLD tag!


International Mother Language Day 2015 – #IMLD campaign.

New Year, New Bilingualism Projects!

To have another language is to possess a second soul.


Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/charlemagn182029.html#trkFxkBroweWuwU0.99

As someone who has lived within the academic world since the age of five years old, I always feel like the beginning of September is the “New Year” for me. The last six months have been very busy for me, both personally and professionally (having three kids will do that for you!) and I’ve not been a very consistent blogger…
So here is a new start, with four projects I am working on – What’s happening with CEC (Crisfield Educational Consulting) this year. Continue reading

Let’s talk about Dutch Mother Tongue support (Hup! Hup! Holland!)

So as the rest of the country sits wide awake, glued to the Netherlands-Argentina game, I too am considering the position of Dutch in the world, but the language, not the football team. Don’t feel sorry for me; I’d really rather think about language than watch the World Cup semi-finals… (small confession: the game is on, but the sound is muted – I know the horns will alert me if there is a goal).

So why am I pondering support for Dutch as a mother tongue from my sofa in the Netherlands? Because all over the world there are children being raised with Dutch as one of, but not their only language, for a variety of reasons. Some of them may have a parent on a foreign posting (a footballer perhaps?) and others may have a Dutch-speaking parent (or Flemish speaking!) but are being raised outside the Netherlands. But for whatever reason, these children are in the process of being raised as bilinguals, in a place where schooling is not available in their “mother tongue” or L1. Continue reading

Changing the language about language

I was reading some online information about the recent local elections, to see what the different parties were campaigning about this time. I was reading it in English, because I am lazy that way… I came across a couple of references to special preschools for children with a “language deficiency”. Hm, I thought. I wonder what they actually mean by this? So I went back to the original sources, in Dutch, to see if it was more clear. And unfortunately, it was definitely more clear. The Dutch word used was “taalachterstand”, which does translate to “language delay”. And it was being used to classify children with “one or more non-Dutch speaking parents”. Wow. What a negative way to refer to the language development process of *bilingual* children. What message does it give to children, to be thrust into early preschool, to help them with their “deficiency”? What impact on their self-confidence, and their attitudes towards the other language(s) spoken in their home? And what message does it send to the parents of these children? That having another language is not a benefit, or a gift, but makes you “deficient”? Seriously, it’s like being back in the 1950s. These children are not delayed. They are language learners who are in the process of learning a new language, in addition to the one they are already proficient in!

We know that being raised bilingual is overall a positive thing for children’s development. We know that a key element of the “positive” comes from the development of both languages. We know that successful bilingualism is far, far better than forced monolingualism. We know that positive attitudes and maintenance of the home language are the best route to successful acquisition of a new community or school language.

Why is it that there is so much information available about bilingualism – research-based, solid information, available from many academic and non-academic sources, and yet the “people making the decisions” seem to have read none of it. Not one word. Do the people running these preschools know this research? I don’t know. I hope so, but given the mandate of these schools, it’s seems that they are unlikely to be havens of positive bilingualism. And if this is true, what attitudes are being espoused, and what advice given, by the teachers and administrators in these preschools, if they are coming from the angle of trying to fix deficient children?

There is no excuse for this kind of dialogue about bilingualism anymore. None. So if you have a child that has an “indicatie” for one of these preschools, please, please talk to them about the importance of the language we use about language for, and with, our children. Or just point them in the direction of this post….