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!
In the last blog we considered the first important factor to consider when creating a family language plan: family. This blog will cover the other – location.
In many places in the world, bilingualism takes place not only within the family home but also in the community surrounding it. In the Philippines, for example, most people grow up with a local language or dialect (such as Illocano), the major language of the region (such as Tagalog) and often a third, colonial language (often English). In situations such as these, it can be hard to choose which language to prioritise. Often parents will choose the language that is perceived to have the highest status (for example, in Cyprus, parents often choose to have Greek as the priority language for their children, sidelining their own Cypriot Greek dialect). I would argue that while this is sometimes the right choice, it is certainly not always so. Language does not only represent communication, but also culture. A parent who feels very strongly about their culture might be better off choosing their own dialect to pass on to their children.
Another feature of location which needs to be considered when creating a family language plan is if the parent will be using a non-native language. This is best illustrated with my own circumstances – I am a native English speaker, but learned French to a fluent standard as an adult. I chose to speak to my children in French and lived in French for many years both in Quebec and in France. I felt comfortable and ‘myself’ in French, and wanted my children to be bilingual and to master both of Canada’s official languages. One thing I did have to do when creating my own family language plan (as a non-native French speaker) was to ensure I accounted for those things which I could not provide for my children. Hence, they went to a French school for a number of years. Raising bilingual children as a non-native language speaker requires a long term commitment and gets harder as the children get older and begin to make their own language choices – but it is very doable!
Many families move countries often, and have to make choices in their family language plan about which of the many languages that their children will be exposed to will be a part of their family language plan. My advice here would be that it is always a good idea to give children access to a local language, even if their exposure to it is likely to be short-term. Younger children, of course, are more likely to take on board these languages and make use of them, but even older children will gain something from it – a powerful message about the value of learning other languages. Of course, your children’s age will play a big role in how you decide to expose them to the local language – younger children will benefit from joining in with daycare/preschool. Once school age is reached, the decision about whether to send them to a local school becomes based on the individual child – some flourish while others can withdraw and self-isolate. My best advice here would be to look carefully at the various options – local school or international school and decide what fits best with your own child’s individual needs.
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