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In Defense of the Bilingual Child

These three phrases, and the knowledge that goes behind them, could be the most important tools parents have when advocating for their bilingual child:

1) “His/her language development is on-target for bilingual acquisition. Would you like me to give you some resources to read about this topic?”

– This phrase demonstrates that you are not susceptible to fear-based tactics, and that you are following your child’s language development closely. In addition, it shows that you have knowledge about the topic, and have actual information behind your statements. And it shows that you are happy to be helpful and share the information with them.

2) “Research demonstrates that bilingualism has many benefits for children. Would you like me to give you some resources to read about this topic?”

– “Research demonstrates” is a powerful phrase when going up against health and education professionals. If you know what research says about bilingualism, and aren’t afraid to tell them, they will most likely defer to you rather than persist in trying to advise you. And of course, you helpfully offer to share the information with them, in case they are really interested in learning something.

3) “No, we are not worried. We have a family language plan for our children, based on the latest research. Would you like me to give you some resources to read about this topic?”

– This demonstrates that you are playing an active role in your child’s language journey, and the word “plan” shows that you are serious about what you are doing. When you throw “research” in there, it helps give you gravitas…. and of course, ever helpful, offer to share your information with them.

Now, this post may be (slightly) tongue-in-cheek, but my point is very serious. If you are choosing to raise a bilingual child in a place where this is not the norm, you need to be prepared to advocate for your child. Doctors, nurses, day care workers, teachers and other professionals you interact with may not support your choice, and may give poor or inaccurate advice about the process. Your best weapons are knowledge and conviction. Knowledge about bilingual language acquisition, knowledge that your family’s approach is a valid one, and the conviction to stand up for your child will be needed, at some point along the journey. The only question is, will you inform yourself now, or wait until you are challenged?

9 thoughts on “In Defense of the Bilingual Child

  1. The woman that inspired this post could have easily been me. My 3 year old’s speech development is somewhat is somewhat slow, and her pronunciation is not so clear yet- but it’s getting better and she is making progress, with grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.Now more and more people tell me they can understand her, so I think it’s OK. But could have heard the same diagnosis that woman has, and it was only luck that I didn’t. Thank you for this post- Ute of Expat Since Birth has written about the importance of stating your thoughts in a positive manner ( “what to say” rather than “what not to say)your post is not at all tongue-in-cheek- these phrases are actually helpful. I will most probably use them if I need them. Thank you!

  2. Thank you for this great post! I did reblog it on my page (expatsincebirth.com).
    My mum did already the same experience in the seventies when she did raise me and my sister trilingual. She didn’t have all these insights we can have now, but she managed to convince people that what she was doing was good for us. And she was incredible confident that she would succeed! And she did. I personally experienced all the positive effects that multilingualism can have. But I’m also aware that not everyone deals with it the same way. My three children deal with it in three different ways. I totally agree that knowledge about bilingual (or multilingual) language acquisition etc. and conviction are the keys to success. I was lucky to have read and studied about bilingualism years before I had my children and knew what could happen (and when!). We had to adapt to the “weaker” speaker in our family (I don’t like that this sounds negative!), in order to have a “healthy linguistic context” for them all. I had to stand up for my children and am convinced that my knowledge was crucial during the conversations with the others involved in this (teachers, therapists etc.). – What I’m still looking for is a speech-therapy for multilingual children (german, dutch, english, maybe italian)…

    1. Your Mom was quite a pioneer, and must have all kinds of negative reactions. In terms of speech therapy, have you heard of TinyEYE? They do telespeech therapy, based in Belgium, and their platform and therapists work in English and Dutch, and I think they are working on German. I’m planning a post on the system soon, but I thought I’d give you a head’s up.

  3. Yes, I’m very glad my mom did all this for us. It wasn’t easy, but she was very consistent. Thank you very much for the hint about TinyEYE, I’ll have a look at it. I’m already looking forward to your post about the system!

  4. I just stumbled upon your blog and I loved this entry. I’m raising my son to be bilingual, and perhaps multilingual. I speak 3 languages fluently, and am working on my 4th. None of this would have been possible without my parents being advocates for me. Since I was a kid I was enrolled in dual immersion program back home in Mexico to learn English, the program was 50-50. I thought it was just normal, but it hasn’t been until recently that I have come to realize what they really did for me, and I will be forever grateful for providing these skills for me. Thanks!

    http://denhie.blogspot.com/2013/01/bilingualbicultural.html

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