I am not one to make random New Year’s resolutions just because everyone else does it. In fact, many of the resolutions we make rarely stick. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that committing to making changes as we step into a new year is a bad idea, but sometimes, people tend to aim too high, setting goals that are seldom achievable and often hard to incorporate into their daily routines. We crave change and turning a new page can be a huge source of motivation. Resolutions can help us find direction and aid us in doing or trying (new) things that would enrich our lives. The key is to make them enjoyable, achievable for everyone involved and meaningful, aligned with our (family) values, without setting the bar too high.
As a parent of two bilingual children, I have been using New Year’s resolutions as a source of inspiration, for example, to make tweaks in our Family Language Plan or integrate different practices that might improve our language experience and contribute to our goals. What has helped us is staying consistent, keeping an open mind, having family conversations about our progress and amending our resolutions as we go. I have also tried to stick to a maximum of two or three resolutions, so that no-one feels overwhelmed.
Here I would like to offer you five New Year’s resolutions that have worked great for my family or for bilingual families we have worked with (so, tried and tested!):
- If you don’t have a Family Language Plan, focus on putting one together
Ok, this is a big one. Plain and simple – bilingual families need a strategy if they want to fulfil certain language goals. A Family Language Plan doesn’t have to be rigid, strict and planned down to the last bit, but we do need to set our main objectives and think about how we want and can fulfil them. Otherwise, we run the risk of jeopardising our children’s linguistic development. If we have a strategy, we have a much better chance of coping with the problems that will arise along the way (because they always do!). So, if you don’t have a Family Language Plan yet, get the ball rolling!
2. Speak the home language more often
This idea sounds great in theory, but we’ve all experienced how difficult it could be to actually do it and incorporate new dimensions of our home language in our day-to-day lives. And just the sheer thought of adding more of anything to our busy routines could be overwhelming for some. So, how about breaking it down to more manageable bits? Pick a topic that your child is currently interested in; it can be anything – from cars, dinosaurs, the Renaissance to ocean preservation or current politics – and go to a museum together (or as a family), for example, to explore that topic, only using your home language to talk about anything you see or anything that sparks your interest. It could be once a month or once a quarter – whatever works best for your family, but make a plan and be consistent. This can be particularly helpful as your child gets older and starts showing less and less interest in the home language. Alternatively, you can do this from the comfort of your home via websites such as https://artsandculture.google.com/partner.
3. Update your home library
If you ask me, one can never have enough books. And I want to let you in on a little secret – it’s ok to buy books and build your home library even if you think your child will not read them right away. You need to make sure that they always have age- and interest-appropriate books to read at home. Imagine your child wants to grab a book and read but all there is are books they already know or are too old for. That would be a waste of opportunity, wouldn’t it? And, as the great Umberto Eco put it, often “read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know [as your means allow you to purchase]. […] The more you know, the larger the rows of unread books”. This is indeed true and the more children read (or are read to), the more excited they get about reading, books and learning, and the more they want to read.
4. Take more time to talk to your children about family language planning
Discussing your language-related New Year’s resolutions with your children, asking for their opinions and ideas is crucial to their success. Having conversations with your children and including them in the process would make them feel as an integral part of the process and a driving force on the road to reaching their goals. It will also show them that they play an active part in their own language development and are captains of their language journey. And that is a life skill as well!
5. Try out a new approach to language management at home
The start of the New Year might be just the right time to try out something completely new, such a more flexible approach to language learning, like translanguaging. Such methods of language learning could be highly beneficial, especially when your children are a bit older, have already been in school for a couple of years and are slowly starting to drift away from your home language. As I have said before, the language strategies we use at home when our children are younger might prove insufficient, and overall lacking, to fully support home-language development with time. So, why not meet your children half-way and give them the best of both worlds?! Teach them that their languages are connected, laying on a sort of a continuum, supporting and reinforcing each other. Start small and try it out without changing your regular routine, when doing things together you normally do, such as cooking or shopping.
Take it in strides and focus on the process as well as on your long-term goals. Lean on your family values and prioritise reading more in your home language, for example, rather than adding another foreign language to the mix, just because it is popular with people around you. You tried translanguaging or wanted to discuss your Family Language Plan with your pre-teen, but it didn’t quite work out? Try again and don’t get discouraged by minor hiccups. Who said raising bilingual children is going to be easy?! And if you need support, drop us an email! Wishing you all a very happy New Year!
Is incorporating the home language more into your daily life one of your personal top priorities this year? If so, watch this space as I will soon be exploring more easy and workable ways to do that.
Image by Tim Mossholder on unsplash.com