Since I had my own children, I’ve started noticing other young children in my community, and by extension, their families. More and more, families are becoming racially mixed these days. Children of first generation immigrants like us are now having their own children, creating a hodgepodge of cultures in this third generation. It makes me wonder how parents of our generation are raising their bi/multi-racial, bi/multi-cultural children.
Amongst our friends and in Toddler’s classes, there are many such children. A lot of them are being raised only speaking English. The parents either don’t speak their first language well or choose not to pass it on to their children. Or, each spouse speaks a different language so they find it easier to communicate with their children in English.
I completely understand how difficult it is to raise bilingual children. It takes dedication to something that may not be the path of least resistance. My family moved to LA from Taiwan when I was 5 years old, so my first language was Chinese. However, at that young age, I very naturally picked up English. Our ease with English was so great that our parents had to impose a “No English” rule in our house so we would not lose our ability to converse in Chinese. My brother and I inevitably spoke English to each other while we were alone, but never with our parents. To them, our education in the Chinese language was just as important as our grades in school. There were shipments of elementary schoolbooks from Taiwan and weekends spent at Chinese school. Because of my parents’ dedication, today I am just short of fluent in reading and writing, and can easily function in a Chinese society without translation.
Studies show that the brains of bilingual people are different. Development in children who are bilingual is more advanced over those who are not exposed to a second language. In my case, it’s helped me score almost perfect on my SAT’s and excel in all levels of my education. Spending evenings with my father at the kitchen table reading the Chinese newspaper fostered in me a love for language that resulted in my career as an English teacher.
Therefore it’s no surprise that I would be adamant in raising my children to be bilingual. From infancy, I’ve spoken to them only in Mandarin. Husband is actually a Cantonese speaker (a different dialect of Chinese), though not fluent, but he’s learning Mandarin along with Toddler. My children will get the same opportunity to learn a second language as I did. In fact, they will truly be bilingual, as they will have both English and Chinese as their first language.
It will take even more dedication for us than it did for our parents, though. We are so much more comfortable with English than they ever were. At not even three years old, Toddler is almost just as strong in English already. With our iPad commandeered as hers and all that toddler programming on Nick Jr, it won’t take long for English to become her dominant language. I will have to strive to enroll her in dual language schools and provide her with regular, extended interactions with their grandmother. And then her siblings will come along and the battle will be even more uphill.
I hope they will someday be appreciative of these efforts as I am deeply grateful for my parents’.
lunchldyd is mom to a bilingual 3 yr old daughter and soon-to-be bilingual 3 month old b/g twins.