I don’t know about you, but I think bilingual children are pretty amazing.
I mean, imagine not even knowing how to speak yet, but completely understanding that when Dad says “pick up the ball” in a different language to Mum, you still pick up the ball (until you turn 4 or 5 and realise that you can tell them to pick it up themselves, after all, what is this? Child labour?).
People call children ‘little sponges’ which makes sense, I don’t mean the old smelly ones that lie in the old dishwater for days on end (well, not my child anyway) but the nice new fresh ones, that are clean and bright and ready to get a little dirty and absorb a lot more than you might think they can! But don’t always do as promised by the packaging.
From the moment our daughter was born, to an Aussie mum (that’s me!) and a Dutch Dad (aaagh the Dutch, gotta love ‘em!) we decided that we would bring her up as bilingual, and try to only speak to her in our mother tongue, right! Done deal!
So, everything was going to plan, until she began to talk! Living in Holland at the time, she decided that she was Dutch! Little cheese chomper. Okay, time to bust out the Aussie slang (not to mention the Kylie CDs, yep, CDs were still pretty hip back in the day), Aussie Aussie Aussie oi oi oi (That was one of the first sayings I taught her, can you imagine how proud I was at playgroup when she said it at the top of her voice looking really pleased with herself, like any Aussie would).
We had interesting conversations, me speaking to her in English, her replying in Dutch. I was starting to understand why all the native English speakers would converse in Dutch with their children; it was all starting to make sense. I then made a decision; I wasn’t going to be bullied by a little half pint, that little sponge was going to work as promised!
Perseverance, now that’s a word parents learn very early on, we need it in bulk and it’s not allowed to run out, ever! And they say it pays off in the end, well, they (whoever ‘they’ are) may just be right.
So, I’ll skip forward a couple of years down the track; school starts, and I am absolutely not allowed to never, ever speak to her Dutch school teacher in English, and I mean ever! (and never) then we move to Australia, and I am absolutely never, ever to speak to her in Dutch in front of anyone, at all, don’t even go there mum! At this point I am confused, and that sponge is getting well and truly on the nose!
I’ll skip forward another year, and now it’s pretty cool that she has this ‘secret language’, I may use it when necessary (why thank you!) And it’s no longer embarrassing, but sort of fun to teach your friends and cousins new words and phrases using this once forbidden lingo.
So, the moral of this story, of raising a bilingual kid is this; don’t give up! They will hate you for it when they’re older (and let’s face it, there will be enough of that during puberty, so avoidance is necessary!) you will be amazed at how easily they pick up new languages once they have two under their belt, and what a gift, to be able to converse with both of your extended families (not to mention using them as a free translator)
So embrace your child’s background, don’t be lazy and complacent, it may seem hard at first but stick with it, it will be well worth the effort. And I tell you what, that sponge (like victory) has never smelt sweeter!
Photo credit; sponges courtesy of Grant Cochrane at FreeDigitalPhotos.net