On this episode of Bilingual Avenue, I give a mother the tools to have an open and honest conversation with her partner on why she feels that her son should be raised in a bilingual environment. I discuss how the benefits of being bilingual including how it can help support cultural connections and encourage her to dispel any misconceptions her husband may be feeling towards multilingualism.
Hey there and welcome to another Question and Answer edition of the Bilingual Avenue podcast!
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As always, thank you for tuning in and I hope you are finding this podcast helpful on your language journey. We have another great question today to share with you and I am hoping that I can provide some insights and support to Patrycja who sent in her question via the Multilingual Parenting website. If you want to read any of the information I am providing today remember that I always have a transcript for the Q&A episodes and you can find the one for today at bilingualavenue.com/episode98.
Alright, let me read you the question:
I’m looking for some advice on how to raise a bilingual child when one of the parents is against it. We are a mixed family. I’m Polish and my partner is English. We have got a two year old son and live in the UK.
It is very important for me to teach my son to understand and speak Polish as I would like for him to be able to communicate with my family in Poland and know the culture there etc. However, my partner is against it. He thinks that I’m confusing him and delaying his speech development and he wants me to teach our son English first and later on Polish. But I know once my son goes to school and have English all around him, he might not want to learn Polish at all and it will be harder to encourage him to do so especially when English will be his language at school and at home.
I prefer he gets used to both languages from early childhood and I would like for me to be able to speak to him in Polish at home, however, my partner is not allowing me to do so. He wants me to talk to our son only in English when we are all together which means the only opportunity for me to speak to my son in my language are two days in a week as I work part time (3 days).
Please can you give me some advises what can I do in such situation?
Well Patrycja thank you very much for submitting your question.
You are facing a pretty common dilemma for families where both parents do not speak the same language. Some parents feel really comfortable even if they don’t speak the languages that their partner is interested in speaking to the children. While other parents are not comfortable at all and that sounds like it’s the case for your partner. Then there are those who are right in the middle and can be easily convinced one way or the other.
I am sorry to hear that you and your husband are not currently on the same page when it comes to what languages to speak to your son. However, I think with some communication you may be able to come to an agreement that works for all of you.
What I have found in working with multilingual families is that parents or loved ones usually resist the introduction of a new language because they may have some misconceptions about multilingualism. That seems to be the case in your situation since you mentioned that your husband is afraid that it may delay your son’s speech development.
Luckily for you there is quite a bit of research available that disproves this claim! In fact, one of the very first episodes we had here at Bilingual Avenue, episode number 4, was with Dr. Brenda Gorman. She is a bilingual speech-language pathology. On that episode she describes, in detail, how introducing a second language does not cause any speech delays. She also dispels other language acquisition myths so that may be an episode that is of interest to you. You can check that out by going to bilingualavenue.com/episode4
Now let’s talk about some recommendations of what you may do to tackle this problem. My first suggestion for you would be to consider having an honest conversation with your husband and address what exactly is making him uneasy or anxious about your preference to speak exclusively in Polish to your son. Go into the conversation with an open mind and attentively listen to his concerns. Sometimes just letting the other person vent can make a really big difference.
I would also encourage you to voice why it is important for you that your son learn Polish. If you find that it simply becomes more natural for you to speak to your son in your mother tongue, then explain that to your partner. He may be concerned about the speech delays but if you are also able to explain the value that speaking Polish to your son has for you, why it is important, that deep connection he will feel with your family that may also help you out.
There is another episode I would like to point out for you because I think it may be helpful and that is episode #34. On that one, I share some tips on how to communicate with others especially those loved ones who may be skeptical about your multilingual decision. Again that’s episode 34 and you can find that at bilingualavenue.com/episod34
My second recommendation for you would be to turn its problem on its head and approach it from a different angle. Once you have given your husband the chance to voice his concerns, share with him the benefits that your son will likely gain from speaking more than one language.
Start off by sharing some of the better known benefits, in other words, the ones he probably already knew. Even though he may be familiar with these, they are still worth keeping in mind as they may help to paint the bigger picture when it comes to multilingualism. Some of the benefits your son may have from learning Polish include:
1. A greater understanding of culture
Learning a second language can provide one with an opportunity to appreciate the world from a new perspective. By speaking more than one language, your son will have an open the door to the Polish cultures and connect with others that we would otherwise maybe not even have chance to know if he didn’t know that language.
2. Increased ability to learn words in another language
The jury is still out on whether or not being multilingual can help an individual learn an additional language quicker. But, once you know one language, finding common words in other languages can be much easier. The romance languages, for example, have a lot of overlap. But I was pretty impressed myself when I was learning German at how many words I could transfer from English, of course, since those two have some similarities but even for Spanish. Knowing other languages really did help me to learn a third.
3. More marketable in the workforce
We live in an increasing globalized society and the need to speak two or more languages for specific jobs or professions seems to be increasing. It is quite common for employers to see language skills as a benefit when looking for prospective employees. This is not just limited to jobs that already have a language requirement. Even employers that are looking to hire individuals for monolingual job openings tend to see proficiency and especially fluency in another language as a positive attribute that can help one stand out from the crowd. That’s definitely an exciting benefit.
4. Easier time when traveling
Nowadays it feels like almost every touristy attraction is full of English speakers that can help you meet your needs with just a few basic sentences. But this is not the case everywhere. Travel just a little bit deeper from the main attractions and the need for speaking the local language increases exponentially.
5. A sense of connection with your heritage
Some families are attracted to multilingualism because it provides them with a closer connection to their heritage, history, culture and family traditions and it sounds like that is also true in your case. For many, passing on a second or a third language also means giving your children an ability to communicate with their extended family. This connection not only facilitates interactions with others but it can also provide that individual with a sense of pride.
Now as if these benefits was not enough, here are some additional less known benefits that may also help you demonstrate to your partner that teaching your son Polish really is a worthy task!
6. Enhanced ability to problem solve
An unexpected benefit derived from multilingualism is that it can enhance our ability to problem solve. The overall mental alertness that is required to switch between languages develops others skills and other types of thinking.
7. Delay the onset of dementia
The initial studies conducted in this field have indicated that monolingual adults start showing the first signs of dementia around the age 71.4 while on average multilingual individuals are showing these same signs at the age of 75.5 years old. Therefore, this is concluding that the delay can be as much as four years and that to me is just a really great benefit that comes from multilingualism. Anything that we can do for our health! As we get older we are definitely more and more attune to this issue and for me that is certainly a plus!
8. Better ability to focus on relevant information
Since we are constantly switching between languages we have to filter out the word in the language we are not using and then select the word in the language we are using to communicate at any given moment. This skill is not limited to language but also transfers to other aspects of our communication and everyday life.
Here you have eight benefits that you can use for your conversation with your husband. I do hope it goes well. I do hope that you are able to build a case for speaking Polish to your son.
I hope you found the answer helpful, Patrycja and I wish you the best of luck as your family decides which path to take going forward. If the conversation goes well but you want to touch base again, feel free to reach out. I’d be more than happy to help you through it.
For anyone else, I’d love to get your question answered on the podcast as well. You can send me your question via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or just regular email. I can be reached at Marianna.email@example.com or if you want to make it even easier just go to the contact tab on my website at bilingualavenue.com/contact
If there is anything of interest that you would like to revisit today you can always go to the show notes page and you can find that at bilingualavenue.com/episode98
Thanks again for tuning for another week of the podcast. Let’s touch base again next week.
May you have fun travels on your language journey. Hope to see you again on the Avenue.
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