When planning and making decisions around your family’s language choices, it is often helpful to set goals as part of a language plan. These goals will be heavily influenced by your family’s individual circumstances and how you see your children using these languages in the future.
In this blog, which is based on my new publication ‘Bilingual Families: A Practical Language Planning Guide’, I will suggest two key factors which will help you to settle on some appropriate goals for your own families plan; a lot more information can be found in the book itself, of course!
There are two main questions to explore as the first step to setting your family language goals: Which languages do you want your children to master, and why? When answering this crucial question, I have found there to be two guiding factors – the family and the location.
Within a family, there can be many reasons why bilingualism has become a choice.
The most common one is that there are two parents in the family, each of whom speak a different language. Of course, it is always the right choice to raise children speaking each of their parent’s languages – I have never come across a child who regretted having access to both – but this is not always what happens, especially when one of the languages is perceived as having a lower status (because of dialect or simply because one language is seen as being ‘more useful’).It’s important to use your family plan to combat the tendency to prioritise the majority language to the detriment of the majority language. Children need to see the benefits, not only of bilingualism in general, but also of the particular version of bilingualism that is personal to them, and which gives them access to a culture and a way of being that is uniquely centred around their lived experiences.
Of course, sometimes monolingual families will choose to raise their children as bilingual because of the perceived benefits multilingualism can bring. In these cases careful thought must be given to which language is chosen – which can be as simple as considering the language of the country you are living in at the time, if your family has chosen to live abroad. Bringing up bilingual children in a monolingual household brings its own challenges, mainly around consistency and commitment. Families such as these require a solid family language plan which plans for implementation across time.
Another type of family which needs a specific type of language plan is the single-parent family. This brings unique challenges because of the difficulty of maintaining two languages in the same situation. When one parent is trying to pass on two languages, the planning needs to consider all elements – time, people and place – very carefully to ensure adequate coverage. The plan may need to be adapted to account for the parent’s working status too – learning will look very different depending on whether the parent is present in the home all the time, or whether they are out at work for part of the day. Single parents need not give up hope of raising bilingual children altogether, but I certainly recommend that they engage their support network in order to have the best chance of success.
Want to learn more?
The content of this blog post has been adapted from my latest book, Bilingual Families: A Practical Language Planning Guide, which can be found in any good bookstore or, alternatively from Amazon. If you have any further questions or would like to set up a meeting, please do contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org