by Nina Shurts
There are many parents who understand and truly appreciate the value of bilingualism. In most cases, these parents would love to raise their children bilingually. However, this often seems like an impossible task because so many families find themselves in the following situation:
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In many cases, one or both of these parents is familiar with another language and/or culture which is not their own, but which they have grown to love and appreciate. And because of these positive feelings, they wish to share this language and its culture with their children.
These parents also recognize the cognitive and developmental benefits that accompany early bilingualism. They don’t want to wait until their children are older (in high school or beyond) before they are exposed to a second language.
Along with the cognitive benefits of early bilingual language exposure, many of these parents also see the early exposure to foreign cultures as a way to enrich the lives of their young children. They want their children to become more open-minded and accepting of other people and cultures. They want their families to enjoy the added depth, understanding and richness that comes with the assimilation of an additional culture.
And, lastly, these parents understand that a second (or even third) language will be a great asset in their children’s future. They see the benefits of bilingualism reaching into their children’s schooling, their future careers, their social lives, and their ability to make a positive impact in the world. These parents feel strongly that bilingualism will help their children to enjoy fuller, richer and more successful lives.
For the above reasons, many families chose non-native bilingual parenting in order to give their children an additional language. In other words, they have chosen to raise their children in a language which neither parent speaks natively. Raising bilingual children when speaking your native language is a whole different ball-game than raising children in your non-native language. Parents who are attempting the latter have many more questions, concerns and doubts about the whole bilingual process. On top of all the regular questions about raising children bilingually, these parents have the added fears, concerns and reservations which stem from the uncertainty of raising children in a language which is foreign to them. Deciding to raise your own children in a language which is different from the one in which you were raised takes a huge leap of faith.
Non-native bilingual parenting consists of memorizing nursery rhymes, lullabies and children's songs in a foreign language. It consists of constantly looking up words, as your child's vocabulary grows. It consists of hunting the internet for books, toys and other educational items in a sometimes obscure language. Parents who are attempting to raise their children in a foreign language often need support from native speakers of that language. They find themselves constantly on the look out for other families who speak their target language, in order to find playmates for their children. On top of all this, they are usually learning and incorporating many new cultural family traditions to go along with their adopted language. These parents are indeed forging ahead in very unfamiliar territory.
Non-native bilingual parenting is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards are amazing and well worth all the effort. There is nothing quite so exciting as to hear your toddler start babbling back at you in the language that you've been working so hard to instill in her or to overhear your children conversing in a language that you had to learn the in a classroom. It's amazing to see the miracle of language blossom in the lives of young children and it's even more amazing when you see that your "foreign language" is blooming in the form of your child's "native language."