2008 was the United Nation Year of Languages, and I missed it. So, I’ve decided that this year should be the “Year of Talking About Bilingualism”.
On of the things that I emphasize to the parents that I work with is that bilingualism should be an on-going discussion in all bilingual families and contexts. Across all domains that I work in, with families, companies and schools, this is what I feel is one of my most important messages.
Bilingualism is often misunderstood and/or misrepresented, and in order to be advocates for our bilingual children, employees or pupils, we need to talk about bilingualism and we need to know what we are talking about.
It starts with understanding bilingualism, in whatever contexts it applies to you, your family, or your work situation. There are many, many books written about bilingualism, bilingual children, bilingual schools, from academic tomes to anecdotal stories. Wherever you choose to gather your information, be sure that it is reliable and accessible to you. One of my favourite resources is Colin Baker’s “A Parent’s and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualsim”.
This book is in question-answer format, and so it is very easy to use, and the answers are 1-2 pages, clear, concise, and research-based. In fact, anything by Baker is an excellent resource.
Once you have armed yourself with information, who do you talk to? Essentially, you should feel free to talk about the subject with anyone who is involved in your child’s bilingual journey. Many child-care and educational professionals have no training on bilingualism. I’ve never met anybody at the Consultatiebureau (Well-baby clinics) that understood the bilingual child’s journey to language. I’ve met pediatricians who “opposed” bilingualism.
There are many places along the bilingual road where you may question yourself and your decisions. You may meet other people, professionals or just friends or family, who question your decisions. Your job is to promote the benefits of bilingualism, for your child and your family, and to advocate for the right help, resources or assessments for your child. You may need to intervene with teachers who do not understand how your child’s bilingual mind works, you may be up against “Saturday school” teachers who do not use methods that are sympathetic to their bilingual pupils, you may be opposed by family members who feel that one language is more “important” that the other. Your best resource in all these cases is accurate information, your dedication to successful bilingualism for your children, and your willingness to advocate for them.
Good luck on your bilingual journey this year, and get talking!