Friday, 16 July 2010

Bilingual balance

I'm beginning to repeat myself a little too much. This may be a little redundant, but raising bilingual children is complicated and confusing and difficult. I always focus on the kids and how they are coping, but what about us as parents and how it complicates our lives?

I have always been so concerned with how my kids are developing that I rarely take the time to look at myself and my non-English speaking peers, the people I knew before bilingualism entered my life (my life BB - before bilingualism). It never crossed my mind that my friends from BB may feel neglected or even ostracized by the way we are bringing up our kids and especially by the way I handle my English time.

It is true that BB, it didn't matter to me whether I was with French speakers or English speakers. I had only one English speaking friend and that was wonderful. But once Suzanne was born, I needed more. I needed support for her and for me. More specifically, I needed a support group of other American moms raising their kids in an all French world. I needed to discuss child rearing and culture, language and education. And the French. I needed to talk about how the French are different from us and our ways.

But I didn't close doors to my French friends. What happened was life. People evolve, lives get busy. Working full time with two children leaves such limited time for anything else. And I haven't even mentioned the works in the house! God, the damn house! I know it sounds like excuses, but I feel like I understand my parents a lot more now. I often wondered why we always saw the same people growing up, why we always saw the neighbors, or were let loose in the back yard to play or why my parents let us veg in front of the TV on weekends. It's what helped keep them sane and was the only way they could have parent time. I think those are valid points for any parents.

If you add in the bilingual factor, where I will speak English to my kids even if we are surrounded by French speakers, it could create a feeling of disinterest on my part or make it seem like I am ostracizing my French friends. Jerome constantly has to remind me to speak French when we have guests over. (the up side is that his family is learning a lot of English with me around!) But it is oh so much more complex than that...My mom always told me being an adult was tough and she only had to deal with one language!

So to any other bilingual parents reading this, how do you cope ? How do you find a balance between creating a minority language environment and spending time with majority language friends? We could blame it all on the bilingual issue but I think it touches on a broader question : how do you balance life in general?


Mil said...

Hi there, got a two-year old I'm raising bilingualy, too. I guess I'm lucky in that a lot of my friends are English teachers so we can speak English around them without anyone feeling left out. My in-laws are also learning words in English, as you mention. But I agree there are times I feel odd speaking English to my child in a bakery filled with French people. We must remember it's a great gift we're giving them and it's also their cultural heritage. Our children are half-American and it would be a shame not to let them have access to this. Plus they need to communicate with their American grandparents. So it's not selfish on our part to do this. I guess we just have to juggle it when around French guests. Speak English with the child and French with the others. If they're understanding people, they shouldn't get offended. if anyone were to make a comment, you can always say that if they were a French person living in the US they'd want their child to be able to speak French. So there!

C. Munoz said...

I have a similar problem with my son! We're trapped in an all-English area with not many Latinos and definitely no Bolivians. I had to re-balance the language use in our household based on the fact that I am the talker of the family and my husband (the native Spanish speaker) isn't. We've managed to make Spanish the family language, but during the day I'll speak English to him (easier on my brain). We are constantly looking for Spanish-speaking playmates and groups to introduce him to so he understands the connection between what he's learning at home and the greater Spanish-speaking community. Audio books help - if you can't find them, try making them! It is a lot of work and effort to maintain the bilingual heritage, but then I think about how it's part of his identity, not to mention the source of any relationship with my husband's family, and I redouble my efforts. Good luck!!

Amber said...

This is what i'm most scared about, and i'm pretty sure i'm going to suck at this.
Luckily, almost all of my friends are also english speakers, because I find the french next to impossible to make friends with unless you've got a foot in the door (i.e. our spouses are friends, we are colleagues/neighbors/etc) which I don't have a lot of. so I guess the baby will be hearing english from more people than just me, which must be good.
Here's to hoping that my little guy turns out okay.. you seem to be doing a pretty good job with yours, so i'll just send him over to your place when I feel like i'm failing :)

Jan Exner said...

The only risk I see: when the kids are older, they will have friends who are most likely from the majority culture/language. So if you surround yourself with "minority people", you may lay the foundation for a parent-child gap bigger than normal.

Then again, I don't think that's a likely outcome. It's much more likely that we (the parents) adapt and gradually enter the majority culture.

Reb said...

It's nice to know we're not alone in this. I appreciate all of your comments!

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